Author's Note: I wanted to write something that looked at the motivations Shepard may have had for making certain pivotal choices during the plotline of Mass Effect. For the purposes of these stories, I'm sort of revising my version of Shepard, making her a little more prone to doing the 'wrong thing.'
1. Benezia and the Queen
Benezia lay dead, slumped inelegantly on the floor. Blue blood pooling around her as it flowed from the multiple wounds inflicted by mass-accelerated rounds. Behind me stood the Matriarch's daughter, Liara T'soni. The oppressive silence that had descended over the labs following our encounter with Benezia and her commandos was broken only by the quiet sobs of her child. The child I'd orphaned. Right then, I hated myself for bringing Liara to the frigid world of Noveria at all. At the time, the decision to include her in the ground team had made good tactical sense - I'd hoped that Liara would be able to reason with Benezia, to break the hold Saren had held over her. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and all that.
I was tired. Tired of pursuing Saren, tired of always being one step behind. Tired of the deaths I'd been responsible for in trying to avert whatever the hell it was Saren was doing. If I ever get my hands on that son of a-
I started, jolted from my brooding by Wrex's impatient grunt. I turned to glare at him, wincing inwardly as Liara stepped past me and knelt beside Benezia, to gently stroke her face.
"What?" I hissed at the krogan.
He merely looked past me, at the large transparent tank holding the rachni queen. I wondered what was going through his head. Millennia ago, the rachni had been on the brink of total galactic domination, only to be stopped by millions of krogan warriors. Warriors who'd laid down their lives in the service of a galaxy that viewed them as little more than war-mongering savages. Warriors who, when they had started expanding their territory too far, had been 'rewarded' for their efforts against the rachni with the Genophage, a genetic mutation passed down through every krogan generation since, rendering them almost completely unable to reproduce. In essence, the krogan was a dying race. And now, here was perhaps the last surviving example of everything they had fought against, and for what, in the end?
"You gonna stand there over the asari bitch all day or you gonna do something about that damn rachni?" he said, his words as blunt and direct as a sledgehammer to the forehead. Liara's shoulders hitched up and down as she began to cry anew.
"God damn it, Wrex!" I said into his face, standing up on my toes to do so. "Show some compassion!"
"Huh, the same compassion Benezia would feel for you if it were you were the one lying dead? I don't think so," he replied, red eyes steadily holding my gaze. I slumped back on my heels and ran a hand through my hair, matted to my skull with sweat.
"We came here to do a job, so let's finish it so we can get out of here," the krogan merc insisted.
My eyes stung as tears of frustration threatened. You are not going to cry in front of him. With quick, angry gestures, I wiped the tears from my eyes. You can collapse later, in private, if you really have to. But for now, do your job.
"Fine," I said, and turned back to the tank. Turned back to dead mother and grieving daughter. By now, Liara had more or less gotten herself back under control and didn't even seem to notice her mother's blood staining her hardsuit. I placed a hand on her arm, trying to convey some peace of mind to her. She looked up at me and smiled slightly before walking away.
"I need some time away from the immediate vicinity, to collect my thoughts and centre myself," she said quietly. I nodded and listened as her soft footsteps faded away.
As I walked the few steps that separated me from the rachni queen in her tank, I debated with myself what to do. Now that the shooting had stopped, I noticed what appeared to be large high-pressure jets mounted inside the tank, connected to tanks filled, if the warning labels on them were to be believed, with a powerful acid. Clearly, Saren didn't believe in leaving things to chance and wanted a way to take the queen out, if she proved a threat. As much as I hated the turian Spectre and as much as I would love to press the barrel of my shotgun to his forehead and pull the trigger, he had a point. How many of the queen's brood had we fought on the way up here? How many people had died when containment was lost and the bugs got out?
A line from an old science fiction novel, Starship Troopers, suddenly popped into my mind, Bugs, Mister Rico! Zillions of 'em! I'm a'burning 'em down!The burst of harsh laughter that escaped my lips at that point surprised even Wrex, I think.
The moment passed and I stood before the tank, hand pressed to the cool glass and leaned in to get a closer look at the massive alien. From behind me, I heard Wrex's impatient mutterings.
As I stared in at the queen, wondering whether I truly had it in me to essentially murder her species, I heard the sounds of unsteady movement and turned to see one of Benezia's commandos, quite dead, rise to her feet and stagger towards me, towards the queen. Backing away from the asari as she staggered towards me, I swept up my sidearm and drew down on her.
Ignoring me, the commando stopped before the tank and turned with jerky motions to face me. It almost looked as though she were less a being of flesh and blood and more a puppet whose strings were being worked by an uncaring puppeteer. Turns out, that wasn't far from the truth.
Inside her glass-walled prison, the queen stirred, and began to speak through the asari. The asari's eyes rolled back and forth in their sockets as the queen spoke to me.
"This one. Serves as our voice. We cannot sing. Not in these low spaces. Your musics are colourless."
"This is gonna be a fun conversation," Wrex put in.
"What are you?" I demanded, glancing from the shuddering form of the dead asari, to the queen inside her tank, to the controls for the acid jets.
"We are Rachni."
The longer I listened to the queen's words, as they were uttered by the dead asari commando, the more enraged I felt. After what the rachni had done to the galaxy, this thing expected me to believe that she could be trusted not to start the same shit all over again? I glanced sidelong at Wrex; the krogan merely stood silently beside me, red eyes gazing into the tank. After all the sacrifices his people had made trying to contain the rachni, and after being neutered by an ungrateful galaxy during the Krogan Rebellions, I couldn't bring myself to cancel those sacrifices out. I couldn't, wouldn't allow this alien to live while Wrex's people were condemned to die a slow, ignominious death.
Turning away from the tank, I made sure Liara was still out of sight. I wouldn't subject her to this, not after she had to watch her mother die. Turning back to the queen, I shoved the dead asari aside, the corpse falling limply to the floor, and placed my right hand on the control that would activate the acid jets.
"This time, stay dead," I muttered and pressed the button.