Episode 8 - Earning The Name
Fun fact: When I was Human, I had never been drunk once.
In fact, on only two occasions in my adult life did I ever imbibe an alcoholic beverage, and it was the clear fruit-flavored alcoholic soda stuff. And that was only for birthday celebrations and so weak that I don't believe I even got buzzed from it.
The Centauri made stronger stuff.
There was shouting and singing and laughter in the dining halls of the Emperor's Palace on Centauri Prime. I sat in the position of the guest of honor beside Emperor Vir, clad in the white of the Centauri Emperors, and laughed at a joke told by one of his ministers.
And to think that all it took to get a party thrown for me was to disarm an old Drakh fusion bomb before it atomized the entire capitol. Child's play... well, when you have a sonic screwdriver at least.
"I have never seen a woman as stunning as your companion," one Centauri officer said, looking at Janias. "What species is she?"
"Mirialan," she answered for me, looking a little perturbed at the attention.
"Oh, lighten up my dear Janias, he's just curious." I took another drink of brevari. "If you must know, my dear friends Janias and Camilla are from another galaxy."
There was much laughter from an understandable disbelief. "How much have you had?", Vir asked jovially.
"Not bloody enough," I declared. As it turns out, even a Time Lord can get nice and plastered with effort. And I was putting in the effort that night.
The Empress Senna, seated to the other side of Vir with all the air of a woman indulging her husband out of love, looked down toward me and asked, "And why don't you have a name? You just call yourself 'the Doctor'?"
"Something's wrong in my head, Your Majesty, my name and part of my life is all locked up in a little box," I replied. "So all I have is a nickname I picked. It sounds... dignified."
"Yes it does," Vir agreed. He swayed slightly in his chair and stood, clambering onto the table. He sat on his knees upon the table and shouted, "Everyone! To the Doctor, a friend to all CentaurI!" He raised the glass up and gulped it down. Through my own haze I noticed Senna was storn between humor and irritation at her husband's antics. Clearly Vir was taking after Londo.
Vir put his glass down... and toppled over.
Janias got to her feet and held a hand out, but I could see he was breathing regularly and still shifting a bit. I couldn't help but proclaim "He has become one with his inner self!" Laughter came from the table.
Camilla looked at me like I was deranged. "Doctor, he's passed out!"
"I say at one with his inner self, you say passed out. No real difference," I replied before lowering myself back into the chair.
We drank and laughed some more until Senna called an end to the night's festivities. I was rather plastered by that point so the girls had to help me back to the TARDIS, where they left me in the recliner in the library to sleep it off.
I shall skip the hangover part since it consisted of me laying back in the recliner trying to re-hydrate myself. Rather it was the next day, when I was feeling much better, that this narrative resumes.
I was reading a book on quantum mechanics for leisure - with a Time Lord brain that is leisure reading - when Camilla came up to me and sat in the chair beside me. She was dressed casually in a short-sleeved blue blouse and knee-length skirt of teal color. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," I said.
"Are you sure?", she asked.
I knew what she was getting at. I placed the book down and sighed. "I knew this was coming, Camilla. And every psion and telepath I've met with haven't been able to do a thing about it." I laughed harshly. "And it doesn't even hurt anymore. Not the best sign, but perhaps for the better." I sat up. "I suppose the big quesiton I need to ask now is... who am I?"
"Well, you are calling yourself the Doctor all the time," she pointed out with a small smile.
"I was warned against that." I put my hands together and rested my chin on them. "That it would change my nature and I might not like what it did to me."
"Well, so far you've been about spreading joy and saving lives," Camilla pointed out.
"And yet I am playing with timelines, nudging things here, playing around there. Trying to make sure Princess Katherine grows up and decides to not be a matricide and usurper. Saving the Air Nomads and putting them into Korra's time period. My spectacularly failed attempt to stop Walpurgisnacht."
Camilla nodded. "Jan and I have talked about it. We're worried, yes. She's worried a bit more. Jedi stuff about the Dark Side."
"Yes." I nodded. "She's wise to be worried. I've been getting arrogant. It's just... it's all I have now. When given the chance, I want to help people. And that means changing things."
"It's a good cause. And the name you've picked is a good one for it." Camilla took my hand. "Doctor. A wise man. A healer. You heal people."
I nodded and thought quietly. "But should I be using that name? That name has a history. I have to live up to it. I have to earn it."
"You don't think you have already?"
"No. No I haven't. I won't until I... I don't know, Cami. I just don't feel like I've earned it yet. I feel like my use of the name is on credit. It's a debt I need to repay. And I'm not sure how."
Cami nodded. She took the book I'd been reading and opened it. "Quantum locks?", she asked. "Isn't that..."
"Been studying up," I answered. "Might learn something useful. And you'll notice it's a general subject about quantum effects. I already had Lucsly block my TARDIS with a quantum field once. Never know when I might run into another one, right?"
She nodded and opened the book. "I sometimes envy your brain, Doctor. I would love to known things like this so easily."
"It isn't always fun." I sat up and smacked my hands on my knees. "Well, that's enough time for moping, isn't it? Where's Janias?"
"Right here." She entered from one of the entryways leading to our rooms, dressed in a Jedi-style sleeveless vest and tight pants. I suspected the latter was for Camilla's benefit. "So, now that you got pissed drunk are you ready to actually take us somewhere?"
"Why not?" I looked to Cami. "Any requests?"
"Nothing in mind, no," she answered.
"Well, I guess that leaves it up to me." I started walking to the TARDIS control room with the girls right behind me. "We need to go somewhere new. Somewhere... unique. Somewhere we haven't been at all."
"It's a big Multiverse," Janias remarked.
"Yes it is. That's the fun part. Always more to explore. Honestly I think I have it better than the Doctor himself, I have so many more places..." My voice trailed off as a thought came to mind. "Huh. Interesting."
We entered the control room and I skipped down the steps to the controls. "It occurred to me. We've been traveling for oh so very long and I've been going around and calling myself the Doctor, but there's one thing I've yet to do that the Doctor always ends up doing."
"And that is?"
I looked to them and winked. "Why, visiting merry old London town, of course. The City of London! Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, museums and monuments everywhere. Center of one of the most influential empires in Human history, the nation from which industrial society was born!" I laughed. "Always wanted to see Trafalgar Square. We can go to the Tower of London, look up at Big Ben as the hours chime, enjoy some proper fish and chips at a London pub!" I twisted a couple of knobs and flipped a switch. "And check out the Thames of course. And oh, the people we might meet. We could end up in the gaslights of Victoria's time, thwart Jack the Ripper, or find ourselves at 221 Baker Street! Or help some Londoner hold off Nazi bombs in the Blitz! Hopefully with no nanogenes turning people into gas-mask-faced zombies." I noticed the girls stare a bit, but they'd learned to take my announcements of adventures I was familiar with in stride. "Lots of possibilities, girls! It's going to be fun!"
"If you say so, Doctor," Janias commented.
"Now now, do try to show some enthusiasm, eh?" I pressed a button and put my hand on the lever. "Okay everyone! Tally ho!" I pulled back on the lever and enjoyed the TARDIS engine going VWORP VWORP VWORP. By the time it stopped I was at the door of the TARDIS and threw it open.
My senses were immediately assaulted by dust in the air and a smell of rotten decay. I took a step out and from the crackling realized I was walking on pulverized cement. The sky above was dark, signifying nighttime, but the city was not as lit up as it should be. I realized why as I took in the sight.
London was in ruins.
By looking around I confirmed we were on a building roof, some structure about fifteen stories high I imagined, looking out at the City. It was a wreck, a smoldering ruin.
My mind immediately began to calculate the potentials for where we were. "Doctor, what's going on?" Camilla stepped up beside me.
My own suspicions were confirmed when I saw the explosions across the distance. I brought out my field glass and used it to zoom in on a light in the distance.
I recognized vehicles speeding toward the light - a column of light reaching into the sky - as red flashes of light swept among them. I tracked my eye toward the source and pulled the looking glass away, realizing we could make out the shape from where we were standing due to its sheer bloody height.
"Doctor, this isn't exactly the scenic visit you promised," Janias grumbled. "I'm beginning to think your TARDIS is drawn to wrecked cities."
"It's not just the city that's wrecked," I remarked, my mouth going dry.
"And what is that thing?", Camilla asked.
"A monstrosity," I growled. I could feel my face contort into an instinctive snarl of outrage at something that I knew had caused immeasurable suffering and death. "It's a Reaper. One of thousands of the bloody things that cull this galaxy's space-faring races every fifty millennia or so." I looked through my looking glass again in time to focus on a lone figure slowly standing from amidst the rubble, the lone survivor of a charge. And I knew who that survivor was. "This is it. What timing, girls, what timing."
"Something important?", Janias asked.
"Yes." I brought the looking glass back down. "This is the final day of the Reaper War. This entire galaxy's fate is going to be decided within the next..."
I was interrupted by an ear-piercing shriek that made my hearts still. "Oh no," I muttered to myself. "Bloody hell."
"Uh... Doctor..." I could sense the concern in Camilla's voice. And I knew why even before I turned and I saw what was on the roof with us.
It looked female. It looked alien. And it was menacing.
"A Banshee," I hissed to the girls. "A bloody Banshee!"
That good old Doctor luck had come to haunt us yet again.
So where was I? Oh, yes... Banshees. Nasty buggers. And I had one who wanted to kill me.
Janias was reaching for her lightsaber when the Banshee swept its arm at us. A bolt of blue energy struck her, throwing her to the edge of the building. Camilla ran to her aid.
I reached into my jacket and pulled out the sonic disruptor. With it I sent a wave of energy at the Banshee, meant to destabilize its electronic components, maybe bring it down. It began to falter...
...and then it wavered and was suddenly about five feet closer. I re-adjusted just for it to make another little jump. I knew what these things did so I tried to back away.
Unfortunately, this meant I wasn't ready for the next bolt of biotic energy that came from its hand. The blast was excruciating, making me feel like ever molecule in the impact zone was vibrating and wanted to pull apart. I fell backward. By the time I scrambled to my feet the ugly thing was in arm's reach. Its right arm swung hard and knocked the disruptor out of my hand, sending it sliding across the roof. With the other arm it grabbed me by the neck before I could pull away from its grasp. The grip was tight, so tight I couldn't breathe, as the monster lifted me into the air. I knew what came next and that I needed to act fast if I didn't want it trying to explore my guts.
My right hand went into my trouser pocket and found the sonic screwdriver. If the disruptor's brute force didn't work, perhaps this would.
Just as it was ready to impale me on its arm, I brought the sonic up and shined the purple tip right into its eye. The sonic was set for maximum electronic disruption. My eardrums felt like they would burst when the thing screeched. I fell onto my rear when it let go, staggering backward, but my grip on the sonic never wavered.
There was a flash of purple light to my side. Next thing I knew, Janias was leaping in, her lightsaber already in motion. The blade cut cleanly through the Banshee's neck, removing the head from the shoulders. The grotesque thing collapsed.
I realized my chest was heaving violently, sucking in as much air as it could take. I put a hand to it and felt my right heart beating like a piston from inside my ribs.
"What was that?!", Camilla asked, her voice betraying her terror. She was scrambling for my sonic disruptor.
"A Reaper husk. That's what they do to the sentient species they exterminate. They turn them into foot soldiers for their wars of annihilation." I got to my feet and saw Janias kneeling down beside the dead figure. "You did her a mercy, Janias. No being should ever be subjected to that."
"What was she? Before... before this?"
"An Asari. They're a mono-gendered species, very long-lived. The most advanced species in this galaxy at the moment." I looked down at the body. "They're known for their grace and beauty."
I wondered just who this Asari had been before the Reapers destroyed her. Was she a young, wander-lusting maiden going out into the galaxy? A matron taken away from the family that loved her? A wise old matriarch who was turned against the civilization she had been pledged to help guide? Who had this been? What life had the Reapers so callously snuffed out to have another lump of cybernetic meat to throw at the races of the galaxy?
What a waste. What a horrible waste.
I didn't know what would come of this. Would the Shepard of this timeline choose to destroy the Reapers? To try and control them? To sacrifice himself or herself to cause all beings, Reaper and non-Reaper, to become techno-organic beings in the hope that the Reapers would consider their directive complete?
Personally, I had always considered Destroy the only reasonable option.
I thought about that. The joy of seeing the Reapers destroyed for what they had done. Of putting all of those old species imprisoned within the Reaper shells to rest.
Thinking of that made me look at the dead Banshee again. Ever Reaper body contained victims like her, or rather what was left of them. Sentient beings liquified and turned into organic goo to command the Reaper body they were implanted in. Each Reaper was all the remained of a species, of the civilizations that made up those species. All of that history, that knowledge, condensed into goo and enslaved to a single AI mind dedicated to the Catalyst's overriding program.
I forced myself to take in a breath. Camilla took my hand. "Doctor... what are you planning?", she asked. "I know you're not just going to leave here."
"You're right about that. But..." I sighed. "The Reapers are unlike anything we've faced yet, Camilla. I can't ask you and Janias to risk yourselves. You should stay in the TARDIS."
"Oh please." Janias crossed her arms. "You know we're in this with you."
"Yes, I imagined so." I put my hands together. "Okay. I have the inklings of a plan. But first, we must do reeeeaasearch!" I intentionally strung out the word in a high tone to sound like Uncle Chan (of Jackie Chan Adventures). As we entered the TARDIS I continued to explain. "Or rather I must. This is really one place I cannot take you two. Your brains would be corrupted if you were exposed to the energy."
"Time Lord physiology is a bit more robust," I replied. "And even I have to be careful. Now hold on!"
The TARDIS engine VWORPed again as I shifted us, just a bit back and time and not far away. When I opened the door we were in an open area with tubes built into the walls. The TARDIS extended a field around itself for air and to try and interfere with the constant neurologically-compromising energy release of Reaper technology, an extra barrier of protection for my brain. I brought out the sonic and ran it over the tubes. "Internal wiring. Just what I need." I used the sonic to tear a small gap in the writing. A deep and angry rumble vibrated through the ship as I did so.
"Doctor, what was that?", Janias asked nervously.
"That was Harbinger feeling rather uneasy about having me poke about in his innards," I answered. "We'll be having husks investigating shortly. But I should be done by then." The purple light of the sonic ran over the wiring in the exposed area. "Oh yes, communications protocols. Just what I was looking for. And is that what I think it is? Hidden in all of that signal traffic. Oh, of course it is, of course. I've got you."
There was a distant clattering. I was running out of time.
"Doctor, we need to go!", Janias insisted.
"In a moment." Wanting to test a reading I was getting, I went over to another tube. I blasted a hole in it.
And I got a facefull of organic goo for my problems.
"Urrrgh," I grumbled, wiping the DNA soup of the ancient "Leviathans" off my face. A steady spurt of goo was still shooting out of the small hole. An even bigger vibration filled the ship. "Oh, he's not happy." I pressed my hand against the hole. "I wonder..."
I opened my mind as my palm made contact with the running, circulating goo that was all that was left (with one exception) of the ancient race that gave birth to these horrible things. My eyes closed and I felt out...
Horror and pain and terror and disbelief, it all poured into my mind, the last vestiges of thought. It was faint. I could feel an intelligence overlaid upon it, powerful and ancient and without the slightest remorse.
I sense you. Join us... join us... join our perfection, organic.
I pulled my hand back just as the force of Harbinger's mind started to press into mine. Dark goo erupted from the hole in the line and would have splattered me again if I had not moved. With a headache swelling in my head I returned to the TARDIS. "Doctor?" Camilla could see my pained expression. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, right as rain," I murmured in reply. "Lingered a moment too long, the consciousness of this thing felt me. And we should be going. We still have work to do."
One of the great questions left lingering about the final days of the Reaper War is the fate of those on the Citadel when the Reapers dragged it from the Serpent Nebula to Earth. There were, after all, over thirteen million sentients living on the station at the time, not counting the massive numbers of refugees who had fled to the station. Had the Reapers slaughtered them all?
I can now confirm that the answer is "No".
When I stepped out of the TARDIS I found a matched group of C-Sec officers pointing pistols in my face - a Human, a Turian, and an Asari. I raised my arms. "Hello there. This is Huerta Memorial, isn't it?"
"Who in God's name are you?", the Human asked - he looked and sounded North American.
"I'm the Doctor," I answered plainly, once again using the name I should have really reconsidered. "I came to see if there was any medi-gel I could borrow. External application system, that is."
"What in the Hell is that thing?!", I heard a cantankerous voice shout. It was familiar enough. When a middle-aged Human with short-cut gray hair stepped around the TARDIS, his hand carrying a standard issue pistol, our eyes met. "And just what are you?"
"Ah, you would be Commander Bailey, yes? I'm the Doctor. I came to..."
There was a shriek behind the TARDIS. It drew the attention of the C-Sec officers and my own. I stepped out and looked around the TARDIS in time to see a young Asari maiden in nurse garb pulling away from the electric entrance to Huerta Memorial. A gray arm with glowy blue bits reached out, grappling for her. "Oh no you don't!", I shouted.
Janias was quicker. She jumped past us all and brought her lightsaber to bear, using it to slice the husk's arm off. The creature howled but did not stop. She twisted and reached her hand out, creating a wave of Force power that sent the husk back through the door. "Out of the way!", I shouted, elbowing past a C-Sec officer. "Close the door, Jan!"
Janias nodded and brought her hand back up. She concentrated and the door closed. "There are more coming," she warned.
"I know." I brought up the sonic screwdriver and used it on the door panel. In the darkly lit atmosphere of the Presidium the purple light at the tip shined more brightly than usual. "I'm shutting down all power to the lift and the door. They'll need to bring indoctrinated agents over to open it.
"How are you doing that?!", I heard Bailey shout. "We got locked out of all of the security systems!"
"I know. The Reapers may not be able to access all of the core functions, but they're starting to. And they have Cerberus help. No telling what those crafty buggers put in your computers." I smirked and raised my sonic. "Thankfully they don't know how to deadlock their systems. And so my sonic screwdriver is more than sufficient."
"So... Doctor is it?"
"Yes. Now, I need to see your physicians, I need some medi-gel."
Bailey sighed and scratched his head. "They've used up a lot of what we had on hand, Doctor. I don't think there's much left."
"I'll take what I can get."
"I'll take you to Doctor Michel, then."
He led me back to the medical rooms. Casualties were piled up everywhere. Some already had sheets covering them. I swallowed as I walked amongst those victims and thought again on my plan. It would be too late for them. I was too late for them.
We were shortly facing the auburn-haired Dr. Michel. "Doc here says he needs some medi-gel," Bailey said by way of introduction.
"So do we," Michel answered in her French accent. "I can't just give it out, we're almost..."
"It's for Commander Shepard," I said bluntly. "Without it, Shepard will die."
Michel and Bailey stared at me, slack-jawed. "And how would you know?", Bailey asked.
"I'm a Time Lord, it's what I do," I replied. "Doctor Michel, if you would be so kind as to put on your stethoscope?"
You can imagine what I did next. I let her here my left heart and then my right. Her eyes widened in shock at that point. "It's not possible."
"I'm not Human, Doctor Michel. I'm a Time Lord. I travel through six dimensions of space-time and I found myself in this time, at this place. And I want to help. Now, please, I need some medi-gel."
Michel and I continued to look toward each other. She searched me for any sign of insincerity or dishonesty. And I know she found none.
Her hands went into a compartment. She handed me an external application device for the gel and nodded. "Here. My last full dose. I can't give any more."
"Thank you," I answered. "Now keep your chin up. Once Shepard has this, the Reapers will be finished."
I could tell she didn't really believe it. She wanted to. But with everything that had happened she didn't think the Reapers could be stopped.
It made her continued stoic efforts to heal the people here all the greater, if you ask me. It is an admirable quality of many species that they will fight to the last extremity even if all is truly lost.
Janias and Camilla were waiting for me at the TARDIS. "Doctor, those people are hoping with every fiber of their being, but I can feel their despair." Janias breathed in sharply. "Can you really save them all?"
"It won't just be me," I said. "We'll need help. Help that I'm taking us to get."
I looked down at the medi-gel I'd been given. The truth was... I was disappointed. I wanted more. I had planned to appear in time to save Captain Anderson as well. But that wouldn't be feasible now.
Of course, you're asking why not. After all, I jumped to each Air Temple concurrently not too long ago. Why not do something similar here? Why not hunt across the galaxy for medi-gel and give Anderson a dose?
The reason is this. Exterior forces can influence the TARDIS. The Air Nomad Genocide had been a fairly straight forward fixed point. Flexible enough that I could do such travel.
But this? A moment with such an massive, galactic-scale impact? With so many outcomes? This meant it wasn't the same. There were major quantum instabilities I had to consider, instabilities that would potentially throw the TARDIS off if I did more than the teensiest time movements, like moving slightly back to get into Harbinger. Too much jumping around made the chance of jumping to the wrong point all the greater. And then my plan would be ruined.
I was quick in manipulating the TARDIS controls. We had the final stop ahead of us. "Alright, our moment of decision," i said to the girls. "Cami, think you can administer the medi-gel right?"
She was reading the underside. "Oh, sure. They include instructions."
"Good. Now... time to go ruin a rogue AI's day." I stepped toward the TARDIS door and put my hand on the handle. "Wait! Forgot something." I rushed back to the controls and pulled an object I'd had hanging off the underside up to be seen.
"Just what is that?", Janias asked, bewildered at the red thing with a tassel on top.
I put it on my head. "It's a fez. Fezzes are cool. They give an air of... intrigue. Exoticness."
"Oh, Force grant me patience," Janias moaned.
"It's vital that I give them a show. It'll throw the thing off its game. I hope." I opened the door and stepped out.
And yes, I'm serious about that part. Being a showman is a key party of this job. Very key.
The TARDIS was on a walkway at the bottom of the Citadel, looking out into open space. Or rather the Earth. That unhappy orb below us was spotted with orange, the fires of the Reapers' incessant attacks burning cities across the planet. Explosions flowered in space around Earth and beyond us. Admiral Hackett's combined fleet was fighting valiantly, heroically, to protect the Crucible as they waited to see what it would do. Every moment someone was dying out there.
"By the Maker," Camilla gasped, looking out at the carnage.
My focus went ahead, to the walkways leading to the Crucible's connections to the Citadel and to the beam connecting the two. I reached into my pocket and turned on my sonic's scanning mode, connecting it straight to the TARDIS.
My reason for this had manifested already. A transparent, glittering form, a holographic projection from the AI at the core of the Citadel itself; the Catalyst. It had taken the form of a little boy. A cheap manipulative tactic. I should know, given what I'd done to Homura and Katherine.
And now to settle the burning question I know to be in your minds. What kind of Shepard was this? Was it the canon male Shepard? Another? What appearance, what background?
Well, for one thing... fifth dimensional tracks, people. This cosmos probably had every variation of Shepard you could ever consider somewhere in its big wibbly-wobbly five-dimensioned matrix.
The figure hunched over by the Catalyst holo was turning to look, undoubtedly drawn by the Catalyst's attention toward me and the VWORPing the TARDIS had made as it materialized. I found myself looking into a pair of green eyes dulled by intense pain from life-threatening injuries. A bloodied oval face with an average-sized nose and chin, framed by red hair, and a dusky complexion... and, well, feminine.
So yes, I was facing a Female Shepard. My apologies to those who would have preferred a male Shepard. I don't control these things, after all.
I walked up toward them, hands in my trouser pockets. "Well, it looks like I'm right on time. Tell me, Commander, has our starry little friend here laid out your three choices?"
I noticed the Catalyst's stare start to turn... well, as hostile as an AI could manage. I wasn't surprised. I knew perfectly well what it really was.
Shepard sucked in a breath, which I imagined was not easy with her injury. Camilla went by me wordlessly with the medi-gel dispenser in hand. "Who are you?", she asked. "What are you?"
Ah, that all-too-familiar tough Jennifer Hale voice. Always enjoyable.
I smiled. "Hello Commander Shepard. I'm the Doctor. You can consider me to be Option Number Four."
We stood there amidst the chaos, standing on the underside of the Citadel as battle raged around us. Camilla pressed the medi-gel dispenser against Shepard's arm where the armor had been stripped. "Now, what were those choices again? Oh yes." I rubbed my hands together. "Choice one; destroy the conduit over yonder..." I pointed to an exposed area in red. "...and destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy. Bit of a bummer for the Geth, hrm? Of course, one wonders what will happen when the day comes, inevitably, that some ambitious sap plays with what's left of a Reaper and turns it back on."
"It is not an optimal solution," the Catalyst said.
"Shh. Please, not finished yet," I countered. I pointed to the other side. "There's also the route of seizing control, of being violently uploaded into the Reaper command system. Of course, your body gets vaporized in the process, rather bothersome." I put my hands together. "And there's the little issue that this doesn't necessarily mean the base programming will go away. Whoever became the new control program could very well resume the cycles. Right?"
"I do not know for sure."
I smirked. "So why do I get the sudden feeling I'm talking to Kyubey? Never mind." I used my hand to signal "three". "And the final choice is that whole synthesis business. Breaking down Shepard's cybernetic-laced body and aligning it with a molecular alteration field so that everything it makes contact with turns into some techno-organic life form, rendering the original programming of the Reapers moot. However, I wonder... how would this work? How would the brains of the resulting beings work? Could they be programmable? Might it be a means to, say, expand the Catalyst control program to every living being in the galaxy? That would solve that whole 'horrible cycle of organic versus synthetic' now, wouldn't it? They'd all be under the control of one program."
I looked over to see the medi-gel was doing its work. Camilla was now applying our other medical tools to further heal Shepard's battered body. I could see a sharp look returning to her eyes as the pain and shock receded. "So why should I believe you any more than him?", Shepard asked pointedly.
"Why should you indeed? I'm just a madman in a box who popped in, after all." I brought the sonic screwdriver out and looked at the data. A smile crossed my lips. "Ah, there we go. Anyway! Would you like to know what I think? I think that several cycles ago some brilliant race living on the Citadel found you." I looked down at the Catalyst. "And they realized what you were. So you called in the Reapers to start the harvest of that cycle and destroy the plans. But they hid them too well. The next cycle found them. And then the next. Each adding on pieces to make it work. But the original design, that one had the key component; base code to interact with you. That's why you're not trying to destroy the Crucible; you can't. Not now."
"That is correct. It is also irrelevant. The harvesting system clearly no longer functions..."
"It never did," I pointed out. "It was just a waste, a horrible bloody waste. Just like this one. I do wonder..."
"That's enough from both of you," Shepard cut in. "There are still people dying out there."
"Choose quickly," the Catalyst urged. "Or the Crucible will be shut down."
"Nice pressure tactic," I remarked. "Commander, this thing may be compelled to work with you but that doesn't mean it isn't trying to play its own game here. It's smart. It knows how to play people. I should know because I've seen it before. Hell, I've done the same. But its solutions are for its own benefit, not yours. I can give you a better alternative if you'll just let me."
I stood there expectant and curious to see what the reaction would be. Shepard was starting to stand taller now with most of the critical wounds healed, or at least mitigated, by Camilla's treatment. I had to admit even I felt rather inspired despite Shepard's battered appearance. In those green eyes I could see a spirit that could lead a galaxy to war against such impossible odds.
"What do you plan on doing?", she finally asked me.
I looked down at the Catalyst and smiled. "I'm going to modify the Crucible to fire a different kind of wave, something that will end this threat forever."
"No you will not."
The voice of the "boy" had suddenly become deep and angry. Shepard clearly recognized it. "Harbinger."
"Yes and no," I answered. "Harbinger was the first Reaper control AI spawned from this one. So it has the most similarities."
"I gave you a chance to change the fate of your people and you refuse it. SO BE IT." The boy figure turned and vanished.
We turned our heads and watched the beam linking the Crucible to the Catalyst shine brightly and shut off.
"That's not good, is it?", Janias remarked.
"What just happened?", Shepard asked, directly her full attention at me, and in a way that implied that if she didn't like my reply I'd be getting punched or shot... or both.
"It couldn't touch the Crucible so it shut down the Citadel's side of the link," I answered. "Fitting form it took. It's acting like a child, throwing a fit that we won't play its way so it's taking its toys and going home." I held up my sonic. "Too bad I know where home is. I was tracking the signal it used to communicate with us. Just give me a minute in the TARDIS and I'll have us at the Catalyst's main core. And then we can do a little... reprogramming."
"So, I've heard of lots of things, but never a... TARDIS."
"I imagine not. Time Lord craft, travels through space-time. Six dimensions of it in my case." I held my hand out toward the TARDIS and stated its full name. "Commander, I know you've been through hell today. You've been fighting and bleeding to give this galaxy a chance to defeat the Reapers. All I ask is that you let me make your victory fit the effort you've put into it. Please."
Shepard took a moment to think of it. But only a moment. "Alright, let's see what you've got... what was the name again?"
"You can call me the Doctor," I answered. "And these are my companions Camilla and Janias. And now, let us enter the TARDIS. We've not a moment to lose."
Unsurprisingly, the location was in the core of the Citadel itself, one of the many computer cores in the Citadel Tower. We stepped out of the TARDIS and into one of the computer core control stations. "Are you sure this is the right place?"
"Yes, Commander." I raised the sonic and set it to scan. The signal source, or rather the source within the hardware, was here. "It's rather cleverly hidden, I'd say. Auxiliary backup computer cores meant for station life support. Something no race that found this place would ever meddle with."
We stepped around a set of computer banks and found a dead Turian sprawled on the floor beside a dead Salarian; the former was clearly C-Sec while the latter looked like a technician. "They tried to take refuge when the Reapers seized the Tower," I theorized. Looks like the husks that killed them left when the job was done."
Shepard stepped up to the fallen C-Sec man and pulled free a shotgun fixed to his side. She picked up a pouch of heat clips from his belt. "They're going to know we're here," she pointed out. "So, what next?'
I waved the sonic around, following it to one set of banks and a holographic control interface that was shut down. I waved the sonic screwdriver over it for a moment. When nothing happened I knelt at the base of the controls, using the sonic to scan further. "Ah, I see. No power to this unit. This will just take a minute."
A clatter came from behind us, towards the exit door. "Doctor...", Camilla murmured.
I reached to my belt and pulled up my sonic disruptor. "Here. I've shown you how to use it. Try Setting 30, it'll knock them back and give the cybernetic components a nasty shock."
I focused on my work to the point I didn't pay attention to the first group of husks to come after us. Nor did I need to. Janias was o top of them in seconds given the sounds from her lightsaber. The loud thundercracks of Shepard's pistol joined them for about five seconds and then... nothing. "That was quick," Camilla remarked, standing closer to me.
"They'll send more now that they know where we are," I heard Shepard say. I heard the sound of a thermal clip ejecting. "If you can fix that thing, you can use it to destroy the Reapers and only the Reapers, right?"
"Yes, possibly, but I'm not doing that."
"What?!" Shepard grabbed my arm. "I didn't come all of this way to hear that, Doctor!"
I ignored the pain of her grip on my arm. "Commander Shepard, you know as well as I do that every single Reaper out there has, within it, all that's left of a species. Thousands and thousands of species culled over a billion years of this galaxy's history. They're not the enemy, Commander, they're just people who weren't fortunate enough to have a Commander Shepard to fight for them! We owe them a chance to be free again, just as free as your cycle's species! And I'm not going to condemn them to die, I can't, because if I did I couldn't call myself the Doctor anymore."
Shepard's eyes met mine. "You're sure about this?"
There was a short, very uncomfortable silence. "If you can save them, do it," she said.
I nodded and returned to my work. My sonic let me slip into the power systems. The console above me flashed to life and I cackled. "Ha! Now let's see what..." I ran the sonic over the console. "...now that's hidden. And software seals, oi. This could take me a bit."
"No pressure, Doctor," Janias retorted sarcastically.
I was too busy working to pay attention to the sounds of battle behind me. Things got tough enough that Camilla joined in with the sonic disruptor. One shot from a Reaper went just over my head. "Oi, watch it!", I called out.
"How is that reprogramming coming?!", I heard Shepard shout.
"It's not yet! The little bastard's buried into the environmental code. Clever, if anyone actually attacked it they'd be risking all the life support for the Citadel." I had one hand on the sonic, the other hand working the hard-light control board. "Come on you little bugger, you can't hide from me..."
I won't bore you with the technical jargon. Suffice to say I had to peel through lots of code and fashion software patches and data allocations on the fly to isolate the Catalyst's core program. "And now to make some changes and shoot a software patch back into the Crucible. And turn the bloody thing back on." I went to work on that as the sounds of battle intensified behind me.
There was a sudden impact from above, a massive fist that smashed through through the upper floor. I looked up to see a massive husk - one of the Krogan body/Turian head combos I knew a "Brutes" - jump down right beside me. I swept the sonic over and triggered a disruption field from it. The beast stepped backward and growled inaudibly. "Clever little bastards, aren't you?!", I shouted as another husk, a normal one, dropped down from the hole in the ceiling.
There was a sudden flash of blue light and energy in my vision. Covered in a field of biotic energy, Shepard crashed into the Brute from the side. When the disorientated creature staggered from the impact Shepard's shotgun went up against its neck. The resulting blast severed the head from it completely. The husks that were pouring down charged toward her. She let out a loud cry and slammed her fist into the ground, sending out a wave of biotic energy that plowed through them.
Well, that made her combat specialty fairly clear. Always did enjoy the thrill of a Vanguard.
"Thanks for that, Commander." I scrambled back to the control since we were almost out of time. Finding the Catalyst program wasn't accepting the core alterations I was trying to force I took a different tack; I further isolated the Catalyst, cutting it off from the Citadel's central controls. Behind me my Companions and Commander Shepard had formed a tight half-circle, protecting my back with no room to retreat.
"Doctor, any time," Janias cried out. "We're going to get overwhelmed!"
"Just another minute and I'll have it!", I promised.
Janias' response hinted to a bit of panic. "We don't have a minute!"
"Stand your ground," Shepard ordered. "We hold the line here." She punctuated that with another blast from the shotgun.
With the Catalyst isolated I went to work on making a few changes to the Crucible's firing program and how it interfaced with the Citadel. "No wonder the bloody thing was going to nearly blow apart," I muttered. "These power ratings are just horribly inefficient."
I lowered my head just in time for a bolt of energy to go over my head. I heard the sonic disruptor go off and another shriek from a husk. Now other, nastier shrieks were coming from outside. I sighed. This was not the arena for a fight with multiple Banshees. "Come on you bugger!", I growled, making my final adjustments to the Crucible and Citadel programs. I noticed the Catalyst attempt a breach of my isolation firewall and had to divert to sending a reinforcement algorithm.
The sounds of battle were almost on top of me by this point. I heard an "Oof" and felt someone, Camilla given the flash of skin that came to my eye courtesy of an arm, smack against me from an impact. Shepard's pistol barked a moment later.
I remember being angry with myself for taking this long. Here they were, fighting hard to give me time, and I was stretching it out. That I had little choice in the matter didn't lessen the aggravation.
And then my final adjustment confirmed. "There we go!", I crowed. I brought out the sonic and directed it to the physical connections of the nearby computer banks. At a finger press I severed them. "Janias! Cut the lines to this databank, now!" I brought the sonic over and swallowed at seeing the near wave of Reaper husks trying to overwhelm us. With the widest possible disruption setting on, I triggered the screwdriver.
With my cover, Janias switched positions with me and brought her lightsaber down on the physical connections of the computer databank. I heard metal melt and shriek in protest and the crackle of sparks. "It's done!", Janias reported on the fourth slash.
"Alright. Time to get out of here." I reached my hand into my pocket and took the TARDIS remote in my hand. "Everyone stand right beside me!"
"There's no way we fight through..." Janias began, although I felt her heel press up against mine.
I could hear the TARDIS engine start up. "Cami, setting 10 full arc, hold it above your head and fire!"
Cami raised the sonic disruptor and triggered the effect. Powerful waves of energy erupted from the sonic disruptor, temporarily staggering and knocking back the husks surrounding us.
They faded out of view, replaced by the TARDIS control room. I went straight to the controls and triggered the TARDIS to shift out. The door shuddered under impacts for a few seconds and was still. I finished moving the TARDIS to where we needed to go next and, as I did so, played my hand over the comm panel as well.
"You cut it awfully close, Doctor," Shepard remarked, leaning against the control room rail. Fatigue was evident; all of that biotic power display had burned through Shepard's constitution. I suspected that a lesser being would be sprawled on the floor and unable to do more than lift their head. "Got an energy drink or something?"
Janias didn't have to be asked. She fetched a flask from a bag under the controls and handed one to Shepard, keeping one for herself. I recognized it as one of the power drinks we'd picked up on a visit to Layom Station.
"We have just one final thing to do now," I remarked, going to the TARDIS door. When I stepped out this time we were back at the bottom of the Citadel, the Crucible hovering overhead as the fleet battle raged around us. I'd placed the TARDIS on the pathway extending to the beam linking the two structures. It was an input beam to the Crucible's molecular alteration field, that is, the beam that the Catalyst had proposed Shepard jump into for "synthesis".
"How long until they know we're here?", Janias asked.
"Not long," Shepard said. "They already see us."
"But they can't shoot," I remarked. "Not now. When the Crucible linked with the Citadel and altered the Catalyst command program it uploaded to all of the Reapers. They cannot do anything to harm the Crucible." I walked down toward the beam with everyone following me. "They'll have to send husks."
"So what's the last step?", Shepard asked.
I walked up to the end of the pathway and focused on the task at hand. "We give it an input." I thought of what needed to be done and realized what I would have to do. My hearts were beating faster at the prospect. It had to be done this way though.
I took out my sonic screwdriver and handed it to Camilla. "You may need this as well as the sonic disruptor," I explained. "You don't have to worry about settings with this one, it's a better model. Just point and press the main key, the screwdriver will do what you think it needs to."
"Doctor?" Camilla held the screwdriver in her hand and looked me in the eyes. I saw her eyes widen as she realized what I was doing. "Doctor..."
"Go with Janias. Protect her. Let her protect you. Shepard will have your back."
I thought I saw tears form in her eyes. I nodded at her and made myself smile for her benefit. "Go on. A vacation from wacky adventures for a month after this, I promise."
She nodded stiffly and turned away, leading Janias away.
I looked at Shepard. I saw a woman pushed to the brink of exhaustion but who simply refused to quit. Her face and arms were still bloodied from wounds healed by Camilla, a testament to how much she'd suffered already this day.
But she still wouldn't stop.
Is it any wonder that Commander Shepard - the Shepard of any fifth dimensional track, male or female, soldier or engineer or biotic - was so vexing to the Reapers and the likes of the Illusive Man? Shepard was more a force of nature than anything. She did not stop. She did not quit. She kept coming and coming until she prevailed.
I remember the sheer awe and admiration I felt for Commander Shepard at that moment. "It's been an honor, Commander," I said. "Whatever happens, I want you to know that." Since I didn't know what would happen next I felt compelled to say such to her.
That earned me a nod and the briefest of smiles. "Not so bad yourself, Doctor. I hope you know how to finish this."
"I do." I sighed. "So much has been given for this victory. So many sacrifices. And this will be the victory everyone has earned, there's no doubt about that. But there has to be one last sacrifice."
I felt my throat tighten with anticipation. I took in another breath and tried to control my hearts.
Shepard's face tightened only slightly. "Tell me what I have to do, Doctor. Anything."
"I knew you'd be up for it," I said. "Can I see that pistol you picked up?"
Shepard reached to her belt and brought up the pistol. It was a Carnifex, I recalled. She held it out toward me, holding it by the barrel. Instead of taking the handle I put my hand on the barrel as well and rotated it around so that Shepard's hand took the handle and trigger guard.
With my hand firmly on the barrel, I brought the other hand up. And I proceeded to press the barrel against my chest, right near the lung and right heart.
"Shoot me," I said.
Surprise flashed over Shepard's face. I fought down an instinct to change my mind, to find another way... but there was no other way.
"Doctor, what are you..."
"Shoot me," I insisted.
Her mouth hung open in surprise.
"We're running out of time, Shepard. It has to be done this way. I wish it didn't, oh I wish it didn't..." I swallowed, knowing tears of anticipation were already in my eyes. "But it's for the best. This is for your whole galaxy."
Shepard swallowed. I knew this was hard. It was one thing to shoot a foe but here I was, asking her to shoot me in the torso, somewhere that would be dangerous, maybe fatal.
"Please." Now I was begging.
I heard the thundercrack before I felt the pain. The Carnifex's round went right through my chest and out my back where, I was certain, it created a geyser of my blood from the exit wound. Pain exploded through my chest from where the round had torn my flesh and the edge of my lung. I let out an involuntary cry and stumbled onto one knee, slumping against Shepard.
The gunshot had prompted Janias and Camilla to turn. The former looked at me with horror and reached for her lightsaber. Before she could draw it Camilla took her hand and shook her head. I saw Janias' expression change as it was explained to her.
I clamped down on the pain as much as I could and regained my footing. With my right hand still on the barrel I moved it down and over a bit, this time into my gut. "Again," I wheezed.
"I'm already bloody well shot, Commander, please see this through!", I cried, tears of agony forming in my eyes.
She nodded grimly and pulled the trigger once more. I let out a louder cry and slumped to my knees. Blood poured down below me. I forced myself to focus on what I was doing. The wounds were definitely dangerous but not yet fatal. I couldn't afford to trust bleeding enough. I had to make sure.
With every bit of energy I could must, I forced myself back to my feet and moved the barrel over to the left side of my chest, this time avoiding my lung entirely but getting the edge of my left heart. I felt my knees quiver. Even my Time Lord physiology couldn't take this much damage without faltering. I didn't have much time before I'd fall over. "One last shot, Commander."
"How is this supposed to work?", she asked me, her voice hoarse.
"Trust me. It's... it's something Time Lords can do, but the only way I know how to do it is to be dying." I winked at her despite the pain. "One last shot. And hurry." On the edge of my hearing I could sense the approach of the flaming "meteor" containers that the Reapers threw their husks about in.
I tried to steel myself, but it was no good. That monstrous Carnifex ripped another bloody chunk out of my torso and sent me falling onto all fours. Blood poured liberally from my chest and back (ruining my suit too... beyond the bullet holes anyway).
"That... should be enough," I gasped.
There was a rumble and small explosion nearby. The Reaper husks were starting to land.
"Please... help my friends," I said. "I'll just need a few minutes, I think."
Shepard nodded at me and put the pistol back on her belt. She turned and retrieved the shotgun from the small of her back. Already the first husks were rushing in. And here there was no cover from their blasts and only so much Janias could deflect with her lightsaber.
Blue energy formed around Shepard's body and she was suddenly racing forward, smashing into a husk reaching for Camilla and throwing it back into its fellows. Her shotgun barked and sent all of them flying.
I used my left arm to prop myself as my right hand instinctively went to my mangled guts. My body had endured too much damage from the pistol to heal on its own. This meant I had to stay awake to do what I needed to do. I kept an eye on the battle as best as I could while making sure I was in range of the input beam for the Crucible. This time I could actually see them fight... and it was hauntingly beautiful. Janias and Camilla were acting as if they were one mind as they supported each other, Camilla's use of my sonic devices coming in easy tandem with Janias' wielding of her lightsaber.
And then there was Shepard. Husk after husk challenged Shepard; all failed. Blasts were dodged or absorbed by biotic barrier. After every few moments Shepard's biotics would flare up and a husk (or four) would go flying, the others being cut down by her shotgun. It was like watching a modern goddess of war in action.
"And it will all be for nothing."
The voice made me turn. A cephalopod of great infamy to me coalesced as a communicative hologram in orange outline. "Harbinger," I rasped, forcing myself to a knee and doing my best to ignore the pain of my mutilated torso. "Hello. We haven't been... formally introduced. I am..."
"...you are nothing," the Reaper interrupted. "An annoyance. The cycles will not end."
"I... beg to differ."
"You will not defeat perfection, nameless thing. You cannot."
"Oh, yap yap yap... you lot... love hearing yourselves... talk," I replied. I looked back briefly. More husks were coming in. And I wasn't ready yet.
"Watch your friends fall."
He would be right if things continued this way. More and more husks... Shepard and my Companions were fighting like nothing I'd seen before and I knew they would still be overwhelmed shortly.
And then I heard the roar of a familiar engine and smiled. Looking up I saw a sleek shape of white and blue move around the Crucible and come in from the right side. I looked up and saw the ship hover low over the platforms, placed in a tight spot certainly but held in place by a master's skill.
The side of the vessel read Normandy.
The cargo hatch at the bottom of the ship opened. From the distance I saw multiple figures run up to the end of the cargo ramp and raise weapons. Weapons fire erupted from the assembled, tearing into the flank of the growing horde of husks. I saw a couple of figures jump down and bursts of biotic energy going everywhere.
A voice shouted, "There you are! They said you were trying to win the war by yourself! Not leaving anything for your old buddy Wrex, Shepard?!"
"You can have as many as you want, Wrex" I heard Shepard reply sarcastically.
The response was an enthusiastic laugh.
I watched the arrival of the Normandy crew and Shepard's allies turn the tide of the battle with glee. I smirked and looked back at Harbinger. "So much for that... eh? Turns out... we've got plenty of... friends." I got to my knees, feeling fortunate I was wearing shoes that weren't susceptible to slipping. "So much arrogance... so much..." I took a pained breath. "So much contempt... for us. You've lost... your way. You were made... to preserve life."
"That is what we do. We perfect life."
"No... it isn't! You put it... it... in a bloody jar! And then... you enslave it... to your programming!" I found enough energy to be vehement in that. "The things I've seen, Harbinger. Oh... the things... I have seen synthetic and... organic life co-exist... peacefully."
"It does not always do so. Conflict inevitably occurs."
"Oh, in the long... run... maybe... but that's true of... everything." I felt woozy. I didn't like that. I didn't want to feel that. I had to be conscious. "I'd pity you... if not for the... horrors you've done."
"Your pity is irrelevant. You are nothing. You are a being without a past or a future. I offer you perfection and you throw it away."
"I don't want... your 'perfection', Harbinger," I gasped in retort. Worry was building inside of me now. With how badly I was hurt... would it come too late? Would I fall unconscious before it came? Would this all be a waste?
"What else can you have? Your mind has been turned against you. You are a nobody now. You lack even a name. And your future will be nothing but suffering."
I swallowed. Clearly Harbinger had taken quite a bit from our earlier mental brush. I felt irritation and anger rile within me.
His words hit home. I had lost everything I once was. It was all locked away in my mind and I might never get it back. I was going to be like this forever, it seemed. Always traveling, always trying to stay one step ahead of various monstrous things I ran into. My future was full of falling off of skyscrapers and the like.
Assuming I survived this.
As I drew in a breath, I felt the first tingling on my insides. A distantly familiar sensation of pins and needles built up within my torso.
I cracked a smile.
"You're wrong," I answered, bringing one leg up to plant my foot on the floor. "I may have... lost my memories... but I've still got something."
"I am talking!," I shouted, a mistake perhaps given my shortness of breath. I forced my breath to steady so I could speak clearly. "I've lost my old name and life, yeah. But I've still got something." I had to suck in a deep breath. I felt the pins and needles start to move into my shoulders. "I've got my Companions. I've got my TARDIS. I've got all of the friends and comrades I've made in my travels. And you know what... else?!" I forced in another breath even as the energy within me swelled. "I don't know who I was, but I know what I've become! I know what I am now!" I focused my eyes on Harbinger.
He said nothing, so I continued.
"I'm not cruel. I'm not a coward. I never give in and I never. give. up."
I let a smirk come to my face as, finally, I forced myself to stand. I almost stumbled but I caught myself. It still hurt like hell but the pain was having to duel with the tingling feeling reaching my hands.
"In short, Harbinger..." I looked down at my right hand and saw golden particles of light starting to gather around it.
I looked back to Harbinger. A triumphant smile crossed my face, which probably looked odd given the fatal gunshot wounds oozing blood all over.
"I. Am. THE DOCTOR!"
My timing was perfect. As soon as I finished saying that the light erupted around my neck and along my arms. I was regenerating.
When I had regenerated before, it had come as a shock and I hadn't been prepared for it. This time... I was. It was distracting as hell but I would not let myself get so distracted as to screw ths up. I gathered my will and pushed my hands forward.
And with a great effort, I pushed the regeneration energy away from me.
The golden particles of light formed two broad streams that quickly shot from my hands and into the input beam for the Crucible. I forced every erg, every particle, of energy my body was producing into that beam. Not a bit was to be wasted.
I don't remember how many seconds it lasted before the feeling of pins and needles left my body. I toppled over onto all fours again, exhausted. I looked up to Harbinger and smiled.
"What have you done?", the ancient machine demanded.
"Option Number 4." My smile remained solid. "We'll call it... the Gold Ending."
Golden light gathered around the Crucible, becoming so bright as to blind. I imagined Admiral Hackett would already be ordering his ships to withdraw to a safe distance.
It wouldn't be necessary.
My patches to the Crucible altered the energy transmission so that it didn't interfere with mass effect technology the way it would have before. It wasn't a big fix; anyone could've done it if they'd known it needed to be done. This is what happens when every fifty thousand years a new and desperate civilization tries to add to a design, really.
I reached down and pressed my hand to one of my wounds. My hands were already stained with my blood. But my hand felt fresh blood oozing out.
I hadn't held onto enough regeneration energy. My wounds were still bleeding, still very serious.
I had to laugh. All of that and I might still bleed out. I felt a strange mixture of fear and contentment at the prospect.
A wave of golden light and particles erupted from the Crucible at that moment. It almost immediately passed through us. I honestly think it might have been the only reason I survived; that the last burst of regeneration energy healed my wounds further to make them only critical rather than mortal.
Of more importance to me is what I was watching happen as the wave swept over the remaining husks. I watched the golden light permeate every part of the husks. They toppled over, no longer a threat, and Shepard's crew quickly ceased fire. The golden light filled the husks as they writhed on the ground.
When it receded, there were no husks; just the (unfortunately nude) bodies of every form of sentient species to be reduced to husks. They flailed about weakly, but they were alive.
"It worked," I mumbled to myself. I suppose... well, I suppose I wasn't sure it'd work that well.
I could only imagine the scene down on the planet as the Crucible's energy wave, laden with the healing power of a Time Lord's regeneration energy, reverted the Reapers' husk victims back to normal. The brains of the indoctrinated would likewise be restored to normal, or so I was certain.
As for the Reapers themselves... the wave wasn't just regeneration energy. It was software coding as well. A command that would pierce the Reapers' coding, forcing their command systems to self-delete and turn their bodies over to the DNA goop that operated each. Each Reaper would truly be a nation. With the main weapons disabled as a "just in case" measure, of course.
The Crucible began shifting, the arms spreading out to turn the entire station into a transmission dish aimed at the Charon Relay. The energy and coding I had put in the Crucible would be transmitted to every mass relay in the galaxy, forming similar waves of energy that would touch every Reaper, every husk, in the galaxy.
Or so I planned. I didn't get to see right then how much of the plan worked. Given I was bleeding to death and all, I fell over onto my side. I was so weak I couldn't move. The last thing I heard was Camilla shouting, "Doctor!", before everything went black.
I awoke in considerably less pain and with quite a lot of light around me. My bloodied suit had been replaced by a humanoid hospital gown, you know the kind. Apparently even in the future you had to wear stuff that let your arse hang out.
After staring at the ceiling for a bit I sat up and looked about. Through a window I could see out into the brightly lit Presidium of the Citadel. The other direction showed me I was in Huerta Memorial.
I tested trying to sit up and found that I could do so with only some stiffness and pain. Sitting up brought me the sight of Janias and Camilla in a couple of chairs pushed together, the latter cuddled up to the former and both sound asleep.
The glass door opened and an older woman stepped up. "Well, I see you've recovered." she said, her accent similar to my own. "Doctor...?"
"Just the Doctor," I answered. "Doctor Chakwas, I presume?"
"Yes." Chakwas held up a notepad of sorts. "You had healed remarkably well when I got to you. Given what Commander Shepard told me, you should have been dead from those wounds instead of only near-dead."
"That was the point of what I needed to do. Doctor, please, what is known about the galaxy at large? Did the Crucible work?"
"We're still getting reports from outlying worlds and sectors," Chakwas noted. "But the story seems to be the same. The Mass Relays gave off a burst of energy that restored the Reapers' husks to normal. The Reapers themselves ceased attacks immediately and flew into space. Nobody knows what they're up to."
"A rather complex debate, I think."
"So, what did you do to them, Doctor?", Chakwas asked.
"I freed the organic components from the machine control," I replied. "My regeneration energy would have been sufficient to restore intelligence to the same, much as they restored husks to living beings."
"And that's why Shepard had to shoot you?"
"Oh yes. I'm not so skilled at this yet, to use regeneration energy I needed to actually regenerate. Which means I had to be dying." I ran a hand along the wound I'd taken to the belly. "May I have a spot to eat and drink? I'm famished. Even if it is hospital food."
That brought a smirk to Chakwas' face. "I'll get something together for you."
After a hearty meal - surprisingly hearty given the reputation of hospital food - my Companions stirred from their nap. Camilla gave me the warmest hug yet (seriously, I hadn't been hugged so tightly since I was with Abby Sciuto). Janias, meanwhile, gave me a mean slap to the cheek. "Ow!" Before I could further protest she hugged me as well. "You are crazy, young lady."
"So says the man who had himself shot to death," Janias retorted. I could hear the happy sob in her throat. "Don't ever do that again."
"I hope I won't have to." I put my arms around each. I felt tears of my own. These young ladies were everything I had in the world (so to speak). We'd seen so much together, been through so much, and I trusted them like nothing else. I could sense the feeling was mutual.
They filled me in on the aftermath. The Citadel was functioning once more. C-Sec had the Catalyst's physical core locked away deep in a hole. The transport beam was being used to send personnel and supplies as needed between Earth and the Citadel while Hackett's allied fleet was spreading out across the galaxy, investigating conditions.
I knew that the aftermath was likely to be long and terrible, what with the entire galaxy requiring rebuilding. But they had a chance now. Lives could be rebuilt, cities recovered from the ruins. That was what mattered.
I tested my ability to walk by getting out of the bed. I still had some pain but it was not too severe. A Human nurse was at my side by the time I reached the door. "Sir, you shouldn't be out of bed."
"One of the benefits of Time Lord phyisology, young lady, is that we're very robust." I winked at her. "So, I take it Commander Shepard is being kept in a room?"
"Two rooms down," Janias answered, pointing in that direction. Two Normandy crewmembers were flanking the door.
"Do they really think Shepard needs guards?", I asked.
"They're not to keep people out, Doctor." I turned my head and faced Chakwas walking up. "They're to keep the Commander in." She looked over me. "Clearly I should have arranged the same for you."
"Time Lord physiology, Doctor Chakwas," I answered. "So how is the Commander?"
"Fractured bones, torn muscles, and internal damage. That medi-gel boost you gave her might have put the Commander back on her feet, but it didn't heal all of the damage." Chakwas took me by the arm. "Come along, Doctor. At this rate of recovery you should be fine to walk around tomorrow."
"Fine, fine," I sighed. "But only if there's something good on the telly."
"I'm sure you'll find something to amuse you." Chakwas went on to Shepard's room.
"I'm curious about this 'Blasto' everyone talks about," Janias said.
"Oh dear, that one," I sighed. "I'd rather endure Fleet and Flotilla if I'm to be subjected to the intolerable."
"And what's that one about?", Camilla asked.
"Oh, you'd like it," I said. "It's an interspecies romance vid."
"I think I know what we're watching," Janias giggled. "Time for Blasto."
I made a face as I returned to the bed, refusing all temptation to find a way to summon the TARDIS as I did so.
After an almost unendurable night of being subjected to an entire marathon of Blasto vids, Doctor Chakwas was good to her word. The next day I was recovered so well that I was outright discharged.
I found Commander Shepard still laid up in the hospital bed. "Can you believe it?", she asked me. "I save the galaxy and they take me prisoner."
"Yes, I'm rather familiar with Doctor Chakwas' love of confinement," I responded. "They only let me out this morning."
"For someone I shot three times, you're looking good."
"Time Lord physiology. And a bit of regeneration healing." I smirked and looked back. "How does it feel being the savior of galactic civilization?"
For several moments there was no response. "I don't know," she finally said. "I don't feel anything about it. I don't think I expected to be alive to see this. There were times I didn't think we would win."
"Well, given the odds, you are excused some skepticism," I remarked. "I suppose there is something to feeling numb after everything. A bit of shock, perhaps. And realizing how much work is still left."
"Yeah, well, I'm a soldier, not an administrator, and that's what we need for the rebuilding." I noticed a look come over her face. "So, what is it like being the savior of the galaxy?"
I noticed the look in her eyes and shook her head. "I don't think I deserve that credit, Commander."
"Why not? You saved it as much as I did."
"No, I didn't," I answered. "I'm the Johnny-come-late who showed up for the final round. You're the one who did all of the fighting to get us to that point. I just helped you cross the finish line."
Shepard sat up in the bed. "Yeah. But without you, I'd have made some decision that played into the Catalyst's hand."
"You did all you could. And to be fair when I don't want to be, it was being honest about that. The fact you actually beat it, that you hooked the Crucible up to the Citadel, threw the thing for a loop. It was being sincere in offering you an alternative, but it couldn't bring itself to accept an alternative that didn't fit with its programming. I wonder..." I took in a breath. "What must that have been like? To have everything you've done, everything you've thought, thrown into question like that after a billion years? What doubts that thing must have felt. Maybe we should pity the blasted thing."
"I won't," Shepard said. "I'm saving my grief for Admiral Anderson."
"Yeah." I nodded and looked down. "I had hoped to get enough medi-gel to save him as well. But it didn't happen."
"Could you?", Shepard asked. "Could you go back and save him?"
"His remains were already recovered." I shook my head. "Paradox. Even without it, the quantum instability of that timeframe could throw the TARDIS for a loop or cause everything to change. We'd undo everything we succeeded in doing."
"Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say." Shepard laid back in the bed. "So, Doc, what's next? How long are you staying?"
"Probably a bit, take some time to heal. I promised the girls a month of vacation time and I don't see why some of it can't be spent here on the Citadel. Life goes on, after all."
"Well, so long as you're staying for a while..." A smile came to Shepard's face. "You're invited to the victory party."
"Ah, a party?" I smiled back. "Do tell, Commander."
Before she could, the door opened and admitted Commander Bailey with a protesting Chakwas following. "Commander. Doctor." Bailey nodded to both of us. "The Council wants to see you both. Immediately."
"That doesn't sound good," I answered. "What is it?"
"One of the Reapers came back."
After finding a mass effect-using hoverchair for Shepard to be taken in, we made our way to the Citadel Tower and the Council Chambers there. There was only light damage to the place and the Council was together. There was no Human Councilor, of course, but Admiral Hackett was effectively the Roman-style dictator of Earth for the moment and he was there as well, standing with the others.
Above them, in the place that was ironically held by Saren when he defended himself before the Council after Eden Prime, was the likeness of a quadripedal alien that seemed almost centaur-like in its form. Mottled yellow and blue flesh, four arms on the torso part of its body, and with narrow turquoise eyes, it was like nothing the galaxy had seen in a long while. "We were once known as Lightbringer," the being announced. "But we again assert our true name as the Y'lyaia. We existed as an independent species one thousand and sixty-four cycles ago."
"That's a very specific number," I noted. "I'm sorry it took this long to break the Reaper hold on you."
"Your apologies are unnecessary."
"Why did you come back to Earth?", Hackett asked.
"To speak to you on what has been discussed by those races that were once part of what you call the Reapers. I have come to inform you that many of the races have decided to depart. They are storing energy for an exodus to other galaxys in search of worlds to repopulate their species on."
That prompted a question from Councilor Valern, the Salarian representative. "You have such technology?"
"Several races amongst us mastered the art of cloning, and others the ability to transfer neurological patterns. It will take time, but when suitable worlds are found our races can be restored."
Immediately I sensed the wariness in the room. There was enough competition for worlds among the existing races of this cycle; the prospect of having dozens, maybe hundreds, of species looking for new homeworlds would only add to that trouble. I decided to speak first on the subject. "And those races that remain will seek garden planets in this galaxy to inhabit."
"Yes. It is not our intention to take worlds you need, however, we only ask for our homeworlds. It will be many solar cycles before we can even settle such fully, we will not seek other worlds until then." The being put its two upper hands together. "We wish to aid you as we can. We will help you locate dormant mass relays that will deliver you to the worlds with resources you need for rebuilding."
"And what is it you wish in exchange?", the Asari Councilor asked.
"Nothing. Your cycle has broken the cycles. We owe our freedom to you and wish co-existance. In all things, we will act in the spirit of our liberators; Commander Shepard and the being called the Doctor."
Disbelieving looks were on some faces. Shepard took charge this time. "You're welcome to stand with us," she said. "That's what the Citadel Council is for."
"I couldn't put it better myself." I eyed the Councilors, all of whom were nodding in agreement, if not wholeheatedly so.
"We will gladly do so. May this new galaxy never know the fear of the Old Machines again."
When the meeting was over we stood in the elevator going down - save for Shepard, who was still in the hoverchair - and contemplated things. "People are going to be scared for a long time about them," Shepard pointed out.
"Which is why they are heading into the unclaimed regions," I said, agreeing in the process. "It's best this way. And in the long run... the galaxy will be a more vibrant place."
"True. But as time marches on, solutions will be found. That's what sentient life does. It adapts as best as its capabilities permits."
"And what about your solution?" Shepard looked up at me. "Janias said your regenerations were limited."
"Yes." I nodded. "The typical number if twelve. I'm not yet certain if the one that turned me into a Time Lord counted."
"But even if it didn't, you used one for this. How many years did that cost you?"
"Hrm. I'm not entirely sure. At maximum... a thousand, give or take a century," I replied.
Shepard stared. "You're telling me that you'll live that long?"
"Theoretically. Won't know until I find out."
"And you gave up one of your lives to use the Crucible."
"Yes. Nothing too heroic about that compared to others. I'm still here to talk about it when no one else would be."
"You still took the risk. Thank you."
"Thank you, Commander Shepard, for giving me the opportunity," I answered.
"I don't think I've had anyone thank me for shooting them before," Shepard said. "So, any plans?"
"Enjoy myself for a few days in the hot tub," I answered. "See the sights on the Citadel."
"Just keep your comms open. As soon as I get out of Chakwas' prison, we start planning the party."
"Oh, do tell..."
In the following days we remained mostly on the Citadel, although I took a few trips out of the cosmos for some party supplies. Shepard's recovery took long enough as it was and Chakwas, being the proper physician, presented every obstacle to our party plans until she judged Shepard recovered sufficiently.
And so that appointed night came. I had a new suit; navy blue jacket as before, but with a slightly darker blue dress shirt and a light blue vest over it. It looked a bit more posh, but I still defiantly refused any ties. Not even a bowtie. Janias and Camilla had come wearing Coruscanti fashions from two hundred years pre-Palpatine, nice enough dresses with a toga-like bared left shoulder.
The TARDIS appeared between the front door of Shepard's posh apartment - the one granted her from Anderson - and the piano at the corner of the living room. I stepped out to find the guests already arriving. "Well hello there," I said very loudly. "I hope I'm not too late!"
"So that's the crazy guy who made you shoot him," I heard Garrus say from the door.
A laugh came from Jack. "Yeah, that took a pair of balls."
Shepard was rather plainly dressed, wearing the basic duty uniform of the Systems Alliance service. It was evident that the three of us were a bit overdressed. Not that there was anything wrong with that. A party was a party.
We exchanged handshakes. "Well, Doc, enjoy the Citadel so far?"
"Yes, a rather interesting place. Granted, we should have been careful around Chora's Den."
"That explains the shootout down there," Garrus said. "And the Krogan and Salarian with missing arms."
I tilted my head to my left. "That would be Janias. She's quick with that lightsaber. But I won't bore you with further details, my good Mister Vakarian. Tonight I bring gifts."
I reached into the TARDIS and pulled out several containers. "Okay, we have some fine Centauri brevari, courtesy of Emperor Vir. Swell chap that man. And 2309 vintage Klingon Bloodwine. Chancellor Martok owed me a favor, Klingons are big on debts of honor you know."
That elicited an interested grunt from, well, Grunt. "'Bloodwine' you say?", he asked. "So does it have actual blood in it?"
I had to think. "I... well, it's Klingon, I would imagine so. These are people who consider chewing on live serpent worms to be a delicacy. Watch out, it's very intoxicating... well, for Human baseline."
"So I'll be shocked if it gives us a slight buzz." This was from Wrex, drawn to the conversation.
"Well, that is why..." I grunted as I pulled another keg out and set it on the floor. "The Terarians, so advanced they found a way to make a liquid tesseract. And so we have this, Tesseract beer, one hundred and sixty percent concentrated alcohol. It should kick like ryncol just, well, without the radiation."
"But the radiation's the best part," Wrex protested. "Oh, what the hell, I'll try it."
"Doctor, if they end up puking all over my apartment, I'm making you do the cleanup," Shepard announced.
"Tough but fair. So..." I smiled. "Might I ask if we shall have dancing tonight?"
"Oh no," Camilla muttered. "Doctor, you know you can't dance."
"I think that's rather in the eye of the beholder..."
"Constable Odo threatened to arrest you because you were so bad!"
"He was joking," I insisted. "Mostly," I added rather quickly.
A voice with a slight electronic edge to it spoke up next. "It'll be fine. Shepard can't dance either."
"Tali!", Shepard protested.
"A dance-off it is, then." I winked. "I will introduce you all to the classics. The drunken giraffe, for instance."
With a smile on her face, Janias let out an exasperated sigh. "This is why we brought the booze. You'll need it if you watch him dance."
"Oi!", I laughed in protest.
It was a fun night. There was story-telling. There was drinking. There was dancing (and much teasing and joking about it). Grunt drank too much bloodwine and tesseract beer and spent all night in the shower. Garrus and Zaeed Massani almost blew us all to kingdom come. Altogether, it was a night of merriment and joy. I shan't forget it.
The following morning, with everyone about to be introduced to Lieutenant Vega's cooking (the chap makes a good cook I must say), I stood at the window looking out on the Silversun Strip below. I turned to see Camilla walk up, squinting a bit. "A fun night, I gather?"
"I think. Having trouble remembering all of it," Camilla admitted.
"Really? You seemed fairly alert when you and Janias brought Specialist Traynor along to the..."
"Not a word," Camilla begged, her face blushing fiercely. "Please."
I let out a laugh. "Oh don't worry. We helped save a galaxy. Celebrations like that are earned."
"Yeah." Camilla put a hand on my arm. "I'm sorry you had to lose a life to do this."
"Don't be. It was worth it," I replied. "In more than one way."
"My old identity is entirely gone," I reminded her. "So I've got this one instead. And I think I can say I've earned it. If I were to ever meet the Doctor I could tell him about this and be vindicated for using his name."
"I would say the same," Camila agreed. "Just... is it going to be like this all of the time now?"
"Oh, it shouldn't. We can't save galaxies every day." I winked. "Just once a month."
"Oh, don't even think of it..." Camilla laughed. "Although I like this glow about you now."
"Glow?", I asked.
"Yes. I mean... before you had so much sadness about losing your memories. Now it feels like you've gotten better. You look fitter. Bolder." She smirked and said a line I shall never forget. "I look at you and say 'Now here I see a Time Lord Triumphant'."
I had the decency to wince a little. "Oh, that's a bit much."
"Maybe, but right now it's true. It looks good on you. Just so long as it doesn't go to your head. Otherwise Janias will punch you again."
"I would hope so," I said. "I would sorely hope so."
Unfortunately, when the time came, that wouldn't happen.
Our conversation was interrupted by Vega's voice, booming from the kitchen. "Hey, Cami, Doc, you up for some eggs?!"
"Indeed we are. Jimmy my lad," I called back. "I hope you made good use of that curry..."
After the festivities were done and goodbyes were said and cleanup duty completed, we were ready to return to the TARDIS. Liara stayed long enough to see us off beside Shepard. "I can't imagine how many places you could see in this," she said, having already seen the "bigger on the inside" partof the TARDIS. "I'd love to find out."
"I'm sure you would," I said. "Take care of yourself, Doctor T'Soni. Try to keep an eye on this work-a-holic over here." I pointed to Shepard.
"Oh, no need for that," Shepard said. "I'm on medical leave. It'll be a while before I'm in action again."
"Hopefully with a less dangerous job," Liara stated.
"Yes." I extended a hand to Shepard. "Commander, once again... it has been an honor and a privilege."
"Same here." Shepard accepted my hand. Take care of yourself out there, Doctor. I'll be glad to have you back around whenever you want to visit."
"I may hold you to that." I winked at her and nodded to Liara. "And I may see you around somewhere, Doctor T'Soni."
"I'm looking forward to it."
I nodded and stepped into the TARDIS. The girls were waiting for me at the controls. "It's been only one week," Janias remarked. "You owe us three weeks of no crazyness."
"Are you sure? It might get boring." Seeing Janias' look I nodded. "Oh very well. No crazyness. Absolutely, stultifying boredom, huh?"
"Assuming the TARDIS cooperates, anyway..."
"Okay, okay!" I smirked and shook my head. "I'll find us somewhere quiet." I entered the coordinates for a scenic locale and put my hand on the TARDIS control. "If this were more exciting, I'd say 'Tally ho!'. But since we're going to Boringness... off we go!" I yanked back on the lever.
And so we went off for our remaining three weeks of vacation. It became five when the TARDIS refused to cooperate and the girls demanded I make good my pledges on extending the vacation time. It was relaxing, if lacking in stimulation often, and a good completion to my recovery from the events on the Citadel.
Had I known what was to come, I would have treasured it more.
Undoubtedly my actions on the Citadel were one of the defining, glorious moments of my life. But even great victories can have seeds of disaster within. I had tasted triumph like I'd never known... and I would want more. My ambition to do more was kindled. And it would make itself known.
The first part of my story is over.
The time of the Time Lord Triumphant has come.