Who Saves the Hero – Chapter 1
Disclaimer: The Mass Effect universe is the property of Bioware/Electronic Arts. No infringement of these copyrights is intended as this is a not for profit fan fiction work.
Notes: This is inspired by the Beyonce song "Save the Hero," from the album I am…Sasha Fierce. This will be an Alternate Universe, because I often couldn't find the dialog that I actually wanted in the game.
Feedback: Always welcome, feedback is what encourages me to keep writing. Please let me know what you like and what you dislike about the story.
Revision History: 02/16/10; 03/21/2010; 06/06/2010
Normandy SR2 – Cerberus Space Station
The new Normandy, though almost twice the size as the original frigate, had the exact same sleek hunter lines Shepard had admired in the first. The Cerberus markings all over the place reminding her constantly of who was actually in control of it and her crew, however, were another matter.
Concluding her conversation with the two engineers, Amanda Shepard stored Engineer Donnelly's request for T6 FBA couplings in her omni-tool and returned to the central, and as in the former ship, only elevator. At least this one moved much faster than the one in the original Normandy which had served both as a heavy equipment lift and an elevator. This new ship was large enough to have heavy equipment lifts in the central cargo area, which meant the central elevator's sole purpose was to transport personnel from one deck to another.
Engineering had been her last stop in the initial tour of the new ship except for her quarters, which she hadn't yet visited. As soon as the doors slid shut leaving her alone and out of sight, she raised her hand and let her fingertips carefully explore what felt like a network of scars on both sides of her face. Underneath them, her face ached with a dull repetitive throb, bone deep and inescapable. It had been that way ever since she had woken up, though admittedly it did seem that it didn't hurt as much now as it had a several hours ago, perhaps it was getting better.
Shepard leaned back against the smooth steel wall behind her, she was exhausted. She had been moving and fighting pretty much nonstop ever since Miranda had woken her in the medical bay to the sound of gunfire and explosions and the news that someone was trying to kill her. Or perhaps more accurately, Amanda thought with grim humor, attempting to re-kill her. Though she did wonder why Wilson had waited until then, it seemed as if it would have been so much easier just to fail at repairing her body, to have never let things get to the point where she could wake up at all.
Following their escape from the Lazarus Project's base, she had been taken to another Cerberus facility where she had met, if that was the right term for the long distance holographic meeting, with the leader of Cerberus, the Illusive Man. It hadn't been hard to deduce that he was absolutely certain the Reapers were behind the human colony abductions. From the moment he assured her that they could split ways if she didn't find any evidence of the Reapers there, she had been sourly certain that she would. Getting away from Cerberus wouldn't be so simple, not after they had spent four billion credits to bring her back.
Almost immediately afterward they had left for Freedom's Progress. In some ways she wished she hadn't paused to speak to Miranda that she hadn't felt the need to know more about the two Cerberus operatives she would be working with on the mission. She usually enjoyed speaking to new people, in this case though, the conversation had almost immediately taken a decidedly grim turn. One that had left her in no doubt that she couldn't trust the other woman. Cerberus Operative Lawson thought she should have been brought back with a mind control chip, a guarantee of good behavior for Cerberus's investment in her.
Thinking back upon her response to that piece of information from the distance of a few hours, Shepard winced, embarrassed. Seeing the shock, momentary fear, and then wary understanding in Ms. Lawson's eyes almost made it worth it though. Amanda was fairly certain that the Cerberus operative had thought she was going to threaten her with the pistol Amanda had drawn until the end of the barrel had settled underneath Shepard's own chin.
"I'd rather splatter my own brains past all chance of you reassembling them, than be controlled with a mind chip." Shepard had vowed grimly, flicking off the safety and settling her finger firmly around the trigger. She had waited a moment to make sure her message was understood before thumbing the safety back on and then lowering the weapon to re-holster it. "But then I'm sure your employer suspected as much which is why he told you not to." Her light grey eyes, hard and unyielding, had locked with the other woman's, "Remember this, to you I may have been your project, your subject to salvage, but that ended the moment you woke me up. I'm a person, not a thing to be controlled. Why don't you pause and think for a moment about how you would like it if someone did that to you." There had been a reaction then, an obvious flinch that she hadn't expected from the cold woman, but she hadn't given Miranda a chance to respond before turning on her heel and leaving.
Her actions had been more than a bit melodramatic, but then her emotions had been running high ever since Jacob had informed her it had been two years since she had died, and then she had found out who exactly had spent so much time and money bringing her back from the dead.
Commander Amanda Athene Shepard had forgotten nothing about what she had learned about Cerberus, the fact that they were responsible for luring thresher maws to attack the colony on Akuze, and the capture and torture of one of the few survivors, Corporal Toombs and the brutal experiments they had conducted on him. She remembered experiments on the rachni, and Thorian creepers. How on Chasca they had deliberately turned the colonist team into husks to study them. That they had murdered Rear Admiral Kahoku when he went after them for planting a false distress beacon which had lured his troops into a thresher maw nest and their deaths.
Then there was their responsibility for the rachni infestations which had killed so many Alliance soldiers on Listening Posts Alpha and Theta. Amanda had been almost convinced that somehow, despite what she and the rachni Queen had shared, she had made a disastrously wrong decision on Noveria until evidence proved that the rachni in question had had escaped from the Cerberus facility at Depot Sigma-23.
Cerberus was a dangerous terrorist organization, and no smooth words from the Illusive Man about only doing what was necessary to protect humanity and keep it strong would ever make her forget that. The ends never justified the means, and history had shown that people who thought that way were responsible for some of the most inexcusable atrocities ever committed throughout human history. Just the thought of working with such a group made her feel soiled.
The reality of being associated with Cerberus had certainly been driven home by her unexpected meeting with Tali. Even though the meeting had been much different that she could have ever imagined, speaking with the quarian woman on Freedom's Progress had been a very welcome piece of familiarity in this… strange and confusing renewed existence she had woken up within.
"Whatever happens Shepard… it's good to have you back," the genuine emotion in Tali's tone had struck Amanda hard, making her wish that the younger woman had decided to take her up on her offer. It would be nice to have someone around she could trust not to stick a knife in her back if she didn't do what they wanted.
At least she had been able to protect the traumatized young quarian who had witnessed the Collector's attack on the colony, and shown Tali that she hadn't been lying when she said she was working with Cerberus only out of necessity. Still though, the entire encounter had left her feeling slightly hollow, and driven home the loneliness of her current situation. Out of all the crew on this ship, there were only two she knew she could trust, Joker and Dr. Chakwas.
She certainly didn't trust her too friendly yeoman with a psychology degree who thought that Cerberus' methods were harsh, but ultimately justified. That had been a jaw dropping statement, and had made her want to ask the woman how in the hell injecting someone with thresher maw acid was justified, or turning people into husks, or any of the other numerous atrocities Cerberus had committed. And as for talking to the overeager woman about any issues she might have… no thank you. Amanda had no desire to share any of her troubles with the Illusive Man and Ms. Lawson, and she had no doubt anything she said to her yeoman, who was either brainwashed or incredibly naive, would be passed onto them.
The crew had been polite to her as she made her first tour of the ship, but it was hard not to notice how their eyes went to her face and then shifted uncomfortably away. Miranda and Jacob hadn't, but presumably they were more used to her appearance or at least had more self control. She tapped the control for the upper deck where her new quarters were located. She hadn't been there yet, but she would be very surprised if it didn't have a mirror. It was past time for her to see clearly what she had only seen up until now in the vague reflections she had caught of herself in the window of the station where she had woken and fought. She needed to know…to see how much of herself was left and how much had been replaced.
A few extra bits and pieces Jacob Taylor had commented. Shepard was reasonably sure he had meant it to be reassuring, even though she hadn't found much reassurance in his words at all. Amanda suspected it was rather more than a few. She remembered dying with a clarity that she wished she didn't have, the hissing of escaping air from her combat suit that she had noticed as soon as the explosions from the ship had died away. The struggle to reach the back of her suit, try to find some way to stop the escaping oxygen only to realize, as she gasped for each successively harder and harder to take breath, that it was the rebreather itself that was damaged and not just one of the hoses.
She had finally focused on the planet filling up her field of view, her mind sharpening, focusing in the same way it did when she was in the midst of battle, when everything seemed to slow to almost a crawl giving her time to analyze and react what was happening. That clarity of mind had brought with it the realization that she wouldn't be able escape this, there would be no convenient last second place to hide this time from the death come calling for her. Her struggles stilled, her body going limp as she finally stopped trying to futilely take a breath. There had been a long moment of aching sorrow that she was leaving Liara alone mixed in with a plea to whatever might be listening that the young asari and her crew had gotten away safely and were still alive and unharmed and would remain so until their distress call was answered. As it became harder to focus, she had made a final silent cry of apology that she hadn't been able to beat this to her lover, felt a chill of worry and fear about the future and the threat of extinction facing all of them… and then everything had faded away. Her surrender to death should have been the end of her life.
Only it hadn't been...
The elevator doors opened and she stepped out into the short hallway. A door on her left, the only one in the hallway, was simply marked Deck 1 and then underneath in smaller lettering, Captain's Cabin. The door opened and she entered the room taking in the spaciousness of it and of all things two large fish tanks built into the left wall. There was a work area on her right as she first entered separated by a large display case and stairs leading to a lower area where her bed and lockers for her clothing and armor were located. She took in everything with a long glance before turning to the bathroom which was on her immediate right as she first entered her quarters.
Given the bits of logs she had found and listened to during her fight through the station where she had first awoken, Amanda strongly suspected that all the skin on her body had needed replacement. Vacuum and the cold of space were not kind to unprotected flesh. Not to mention what must have happened to her body as the gravity from the nearby planet she had seen filling her vision before she died pulled her down onto its surface.
Entering the small room, she flicked on the light. The expected sink and mirror were indeed there along with a standard ships toilet beside the sink. She moved in front of the sink, looked with resolute grimness into the mirror. Her resolution lasted only a second before shifting into numbed horror. A faint orange light glowed where the open seams between the patches of skin grafts revealed what was underneath, it wasn't flesh. It wasn't limited to her cheeks and jaw either, the same glow also showed though a long unhealed area on her forehead. Dear God, no wonder the crew had stared at her.
"In an effort to accelerate the process we've moved from simple organic reconstruction of the subject to bio-synthetic fusion. Initial results show promise." Memory rose of listening to the log in numbed disbelief, suspecting strongly that the subject the woman was speaking of was her.
Was this the bio-synthetic Miranda Lawson had been talking about or something else? Cybernetics? Hell how much of her face was even her face anymore? Amanda turned her head to examine her cheek more closely and caught the faint orange glow from deep within the pupils of her eyes. "Ahhh," Amanda couldn't stop the horrified sound from escaping her throat as she jerked back from the mirror in startled surprise.
"When I first saw you, you were nothing more than meat and tubes. Anywhere else they would have stuck you in a coffin." Jacob's frankness had been numbing, as had his news that she had been… gone for two years.
Shepard swallowed heavily as she remembered the log entry she had found near the shuttle bay, the aborted move by Jacob to prevent her that she had stopped with one hard glare. "Test subject has been recovered but the damage is far worse than we initially feared. In addition to the expected burns and internal injuries from the explosion, subject has suffered significant cellular breakdown due to long term exposure to vacuum and subzero temperatures."
"I guess there wasn't much left of my eyes," in the silence, her own husky sounding whisper startled her. She hadn't realized she had said her thought aloud. How much of her had been left, she had been…salvageable she knew that but just how much of this body was hers and how much of it wasn't. With a grim expression she began taking off her clothes, it was time to see what the butcher's bill was for this. The thought broke a grim bark of laughter from her. She already knew the butcher's bill, four billion credits, and she had no doubt Cerberus intended to get their full value back out of her.
"Damn it," Shepard snarled, wrenching off her helmet and throwing it down on the bed in mingled anger and frustration, while fighting the urge to give into despair. Essentially the Council had informed her that they thought she was crazy for believing that the Reapers existed, and that she had been manipulated first by Saren and now by Cerberus into believing they were a real threat. She couldn't believe that the turian Councilor had fucking air quoted at her as he said 'Reapers'. Who the hell had he been hanging around to pick that up?
Then Anderson had shut her out when she tried to ask about Ashley, citing her association with Cerberus. After that she hadn't felt like baring her soul to him, not about her fears of how human she was now, and not about how it had felt to die and then be brought back to life again. She had left as quickly as possible, feeling more lost, disconnected, and alone than ever.
Shepard had known the Illusive Man was entirely too agreeable to the idea of her seeking out help from the Alliance and Council. She didn't know if he had done something to nudge events in the direction they had taken, or just known which way the political winds were blowing, but he had definitely been certain the Council and Alliance would be of no help to her. At least she had managed to get them to reinstate her Spectre status, though that was clearly dependent on her keeping her activities with Cerberus and tracking down the Collectors restricted to the Terminus Systems.