The following is an example of what happens when I suffer an uncontrollable derailment in terms of inspiration. More precisely, this is what happened when I performed the following Socratic exercise (a fancy way of saying "what if").

Suppose that the originally planned Mass Effect ending was followed through on. How could anything resembling a victory be attained?

My answer was that humanity pulls an Interstellar.

A Tribute to You, the Grand, the Great

"-. .-"

"My name is Nicholas Shepard, and this is my favorite New Year's Day on the BosWash."

And wasn't that just the saddest thing, he thought as he rushed around the apartment shutting down appliances, pulling down blinds and tossing his stuff together so he could make himself scarce before the real owners of the place finished their elevator ride and found him in their home. Squatting tended to raise objections, he'd learned, no matter how young and cute you were.

His omni-tool beeped the end of the last, rushed download.

"Farewell decent bandwidth, I hardly knew ye," he muttered with a tap of the sequence to scrub the computer's extranet history while he rolled up his freshly done laundry with his other hand. Thank whatever should be thanked for flash dryers. The bathroom door closed with a small blue flare and a couple of glasses floated behind him, flying across the den and into the open kitchen to settle back into their place on the dishrack. Now all that was left was to smooth out the bedding and presto, no signs he was ever there. "…I'm taking the knapsack though."

A blart sounded from the direction of the door.

"This'll teach me to expect consistency from the pretentious middle class." Quickly pulling the pack on his back, Nicholas Shepard rushed to the door, tossing a warp at the lone corner left of the pizza box since his previous six warps hadn't completely disintegrated it. "They can't even keep to their own holiday schedules, how's a guy supposed to find a good place to crash like this?" The boy rushed to the door, reclaimed the jury-rigged CSD as he exited, and managed to pack it and adopt the "look like you belong" stride just moments before the elevator on the far side of the corridor opened and spewed out the unhappily sneer-bickering family of four.

The father of whom promptly bumped into him. "Watch where you're going, boy!"

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir!" he muttered meekly, then veered off to an adjacent corridor and out into the stairwell as soon as no one was looking at him. "No respect for the young and needy at all." The boy inspected the omni-tool content supplement he'd just pickpocketed as he started down the interminably long flight of stairs, because elevators tended to draw stares when you were young and unattended. "Next time I'll leave behind a worm set to flood all your speakers with the Song that Never Ends, see how you like karma for a change." And wow, natural 20 on the luck roll because how dumb did you have to be to not have your gadget on auto-lock?

Looks like he wouldn't have to wait for karma to have its way, hurray for freedom!

He had the MCS thoroughly mined, scrubbed and reset to factory settings by floor 43 (the guy had horrible taste) and he transferred into it the content from his own, sad example of an MCS by the time he got to the main floor of the skyscraper. Then, as much as he might have loved to stride through the lobby and out into the nice and well-lit part of the city for his evening stroll, he knew better than to do that in full view of the staff and security guards. It hadn't been too long ago that the well-meaning cops almost caught and returned him to the orphanage, and he sure as hell wasn't going back there. The place smelled, the other kids were violent apes, and he got to enjoy more filling meals and hot showers during the past year of wandering the streets than he ever did back there combined.

The place was also a cesspool of mediocrity when it wasn't busy exhibiting every single one of the failings of Terra's child welfare system. Not that the lone street rat lifestyle left him flush with intelligent company, but solitude was heaven compared to what he had before, and he could also pirate extranet connections however much he wanted and otherwise provide for himself. By, say, dropping his used, now redundant MCS at that pawn shop he knew a few blocks away. Or hacking credit accounts or whatnot, but he should be able to do without that for a while, as the MCS was going to be a nice amount of change all on its own. The woman manning the pawn shop ripped him off every time, but at least she did business with him without asking questions after raising a single brow at his age that first time.

She probably wouldn't be open on New Year's Day but it wouldn't hurt to check, and if all else failed he could always mingle with parade gawkers and swipe a few more marks before calling it a day.

That decided, he exited the building through the service entrance and left the dingy alley in favor of the wide open street. Or not so wide open street, considering the sheer multitude of people swarming all over the area. It baffled him honestly. This was nowhere near the center of the district.

Oh well, easier marks to sweep for petty valuables he supposed.

Unfortunately, it was in that moment the universe decided not to delay in punishing him for the nice, pleasant, clean and comfortable New Year's Eve he'd enjoyed in Squattersville Central the day before.

He was completely caught off-guard when the screaming started, and though he managed to turn around without getting trampled it didn't really help him much aside from letting him see the hovercar hurtling right at him, veering and swaying along with the same drunken stupor of the rich moron passed out at the wheel.

Well shit.

He made to run – what else could he do? – but there was only one way to go, and if the long-legged adults all around him couldn't manage to leg it fast enough, he sure as hell wasn't going to. Especially since someone finally did knock him over in their haste to clear out. The fact that a building got in the way of his fall wasn't any consolation at all, because it took with it the last, small chance he had of getting out of the way. Also, ow.

Head vs. wall = pain. Who knew?

Barely registering the blurry-faced man who'd run back to try and help him, the boy stared through a dull headache up at his approaching death by car wreck. Then he did the only thing he could think of when his mind decided to cut its losses and wander down the path of half-understood physics butchered in the everlasting quest to shoot crazier and cheesier action vids.


Biotic Stasis.

On himself.

He didn't expect it to work. Sure, his biotics had been growing steadily useful despite not having an implant yet, but that didn't mean he'd ever managed stasis on anything bigger than a rat, and even then for no longer than a second and a half. Well, that's what he would have thought if he wasn't too dazed to think anything at all.

For his Biotics to flare impossibly into a half-block wide, vast Singularity was something he couldn't process at all.


No, that wasn't true.

Something somehow rammed into him, through him, over him a moment before the actual car did and the world warped away from him in a flash without light. Like watching a balloon being blown up from the inside everything fell away. He felt as if he'd stretched, grown into something vast and aged and suffused with boundless experience and long life, but he also remembered barely succeeding in creating the stasis field before the car crashed. From there life just went on, from the hospital to the streets, from shady recruiters to a terrorist's life, from the streets to a life in a gang then out, a soldier's life, a scientist's, a traitor, more and yet more and further different directions at once after that, perfectly remembered truths and lies that made up crystal-clear and complex experiences of divergent lives that weren't lives.

They all led to the same thing, the same empty words exchanged amidst a hopeless massacre fought in pursuit of utter lies, the same three failure paths with nothing left to build on after.

They all took up the space that a life not contrived should have filled if carried on, the path he set himself upon when the scions of mankind fulfilled Euclid's fifth axiom and gained the ability to look and reach far back into the heretofore.

Only they didn't. Not really. That life just wasn't there. Not yet.

The greatest biotic singularity ever recorded in the history of the Galaxy winked out of existence on that day of January 1st, 2165 CE, precisely 42 seconds after appearing. It left behind a time loop shut, a vanished man, and a catatonic boy aged 10 that was rushed to the Galenus Hospital from where he promptly vanished the day after. But that part of his life just wasn't there either. Not yet.

Nicholas Alexander Shepard stared from the bottom of the crater up at the open blue sky and saw the Dark.

The Sky was Dark and full of Stars.