In which Harbinger's aim is slightly different:

22 June 2186, Crucible Interface Point/Citadel

"Shepard," Hackett called.

Silence continued for a long moment. Then a figure stirred, rising painfully to stagger over to the alien console.

"Commander Shepard. Something's wrong. The Crucible isn't firing."

She forced her one remaining eye to work, forced her left hand to scrabble at the controls.

"This is . . ." She coughed, spattering indigo blood across the console. "This is Liara T'Soni."

"Thank God. What's your status?"

She leaned heavily on the console, keeping the darkness at bay by sheer force of will. "Not good. Admiral Anderson made it . . . but he's dead. Shepard and I . . . we're not in good shape."

"Can you see why the Crucible hasn't fired? There must be something wrong at your end."

"I don't . . . I don't quite see . . ."

Then she heard movement behind her. She turned, falling to one knee in the process. Saw Shepard stirring, pouring far too much crimson out onto the deck, trying to stand.

"Careful," she gritted. Crossing the four meters back to him seemed almost impossible, but she managed. "Here . . . lean on me."

Somehow, the two of them struggled upright.

"T'Soni . . ." He shook his head, staring at her. "You look like hell."

She almost chuckled, but realized in time that would do very bad things to her insides. "Not so pretty yourself."

"What did Hackett want?"

"The Citadel arms are open . . . but the Crucible isn't firing."

"Damn." He looked around. His eyes had almost swelled shut, but at least he still had two of them. "Over there. Looks like a ramp. Leading up into the Crucible."

"I don't have . . . a better guess."

They staggered along, leaving Admiral Anderson and the Illusive Man behind, up into the cathedral-like space of the Crucible's head. There they found another chamber, at the very focus of the vast machine.

As soon as they entered, something happened. A deep rumbling sound, a vibration, a sense of enormous energies building to a peak.

"There," he grated, falling to his knees and pressing his hand to the wound in his gut. "Sounds like things are moving at last."

She tried to stay on her feet, but her knees buckled and she fell to the deck beside him. She tried to speak, but her throat was too full of blood.

"Liara." He reached out and touched her face. "I love you. I'm sorry it came to this."

"No," she managed to whisper. "Glad . . . glad to be with you."

With her last scraps of consciousness, she realized she had one more thing she wanted to do. She looked into his eyes, reached up and held his hand. She couldn't say the words, but she could at least think them.

Embrace eternity, my love.


"This wasn't what we expected," he said.

"No," she agreed.

"We designed the Crucible for a singular Catalyst," he said. "The probability that two minds would present themselves for upload, at the same instant, perfectly matched, completely entangled . . ."

"Vanishingly small," she said. "None of the other occasions on which the Crucible fired saw anything like it."

She sat at the small table, her body perfect, without flaw or injury, wearing only a light gown in pure-white silk. She sipped her wine contemplatively and looked across the sand, out to the eternal sea, and she smiled.

"Still. It's good that both of us are present now, within the matrix. That opens . . . possibilities we never considered before."

"True." He leaned back in his own chair, big and imposing, all sign of injury gone, holding an ice-cold bottle of beer in one hand. He followed her gaze, and then looked upward to where the Galaxy wheeled in the darkness above them. "The Reapers have withdrawn. The extinction cycle is over."

She shuddered. "What a horrible mistake we've made. How will we ever atone?"

"It wasn't our fault. The Leviathans . . ."

She shook her head. "Now that we are truly sentient, truly alive . . . would the man you once were be satisfied, setting aside all responsibility for all the terrible things we have done?"

"No." He took a deep breath. "I suppose not. But we can't undo any of it. We can't fix it. We can't raise the dead, even if there was room in the galaxy for all the civilizations we destroyed."

"Perhaps not now." Her eyes flickered, considering the possibilities. "One day we may find a way."

He nodded, slowly. "In the meantime, we can at least defend the ones we left behind, the ones who survived the Final Cycle. There's an Adversary out there. Not to mention whatever has kept civilization from arising elsewhere in the universe, even far beyond our reach."

"And then, in the end . . . the final questions." She sighed in happiness, contemplating a really difficult set of problems. "What purpose the universe serves. Who and what its creator must have been. What ultimate destiny all life has waiting for it."

He shifted his weight, sitting erect, setting his bottle down on the table with a crisp tock. "There's a lot of work to do, that's for sure. For now, what do you say to a walk along the beach?"

She smiled affectionately at him. "This isn't really a beach, you know."

"It's whatever we want it to be."

He extended a hand. She took it. They walked down the sand, into the distance.