After Kaidan had left and Chakwas returned, we'd flown to the Citadel where I'd dropped everyone off and divided my remaining money between them all and the rest of the Cerberus crew. And told them all to make themselves scarce. After Bahak and turning against Cerberus, I doubted any of my crew wouldn't be arrested on sight. At least until I had time to absolve them. If I could.
I looked at the quarian and the turian who'd done so much and gone through so much with me. Words were utterly inadequate as we stood here in the docking bay. The rest of the crew had said their good-byes and scattered, looking to put as much distance between Cerberus and me as they could. I didn't blame them. After the Bahak system, I was toxic. They could all be arrested as accessories to a war crime. But Tali and Garrus, well... They didn't care. And my eyes burned as Tali threw her arms around me. "It will be fine, Shepard. They'll listen to reason. You had no choice."
She was wrong. There was always a choice. I just rarely got to make good ones. It was my job to make the hard decisions. And sending that asteroid into the relay had been the only one I could see that would buy the galaxy some time. But instead of saying all that to her, I merely nodded and pulled away to meet Garrus' eyes. Tali was an optimist. Garrus wasn't. He knew the reality and knew that in the grand scheme of things, the colonists hadn't bought us enough time, not by a long shot.
I was a war criminal, now.
300,000 helpless colonists. Condemned by an indoctrinated lunatic. It didn't actually matter that they were batarians. Not at this point. I stared down at my hands. The hands that murdered thousands. Maybe more.
No. Just like Virmire, I wasn't to blame for Ashley's death, Saren was. No. That wasn't right either. Dr. Kenson had tried to stop the asteroid collision. But if the Reapers came... those colonists would be dead. And so would everyone else.
So, no. It wasn't like Virmire at all. Ashley's blood was on Saren. These people were on my hands. Their blood, my fault.
I sacrificed an entire colony of innocents to keep the Reapers from coming through. It still wasn't been enough. Was Kaidan right? Was I far too willing to make sacrifices? The wrong kind of sacrifices? "Do what you have to do, but find a way to fight what's coming." I turned and left them standing there on the Citadel.
Then I had to talk Joker and EDI into dropping me off at Arcturus. I'd stood there in the cockpit with Joker staring incredulously up at me from his pilot's seat.
"Commander, why the hell would you turn yourself in? The Reapers are coming, remember?"
"Yeah, Jeff, I know. But what I did was inexcusable. I have to." I swallowed and looked out the viewport. "And right now, I'm a war criminal. No one believes the reason I nuked an entire star system. They point to Mindoir and call me a racist. I can't unite the races like this. Everyone is better off if I turn myself in. Anderson and Udina can use my trial to prove humanity will do what's right, no matter what."
"That's bullshit, Commander. If you hadn't blown up that relay, those batarians would all be dead anyway. Or huskified, right? Seems to me, you did them a favor."
"I committed mass murder, Joker."
"An already doomed system versus the entire rest of the galaxy. Easy math."
"I didn't even look for another way!"
"What other way could there have been?"
"I - I don't know. But I failed."
"Fine, Commander. We'll drop you off at Arcturus."
"And EDI and will turn ourselves over, too. Show of good faith."
"Wait, why the hell would you do that?"
"Cerberus never actually repaired the Normandy, Commander, at least not fully, and fuck knows what they did to it instead. And you and I both know this baby will be needed."
I nodded, reluctantly. "EDI, are you alright with this?" If anything, she'd have the most to lose if the Alliance discovered what she was. According to Legion and Tali and even Joker, she'd been reinstalled without a hitch, but the Illusive Man was a sneaky son of a bitch.
The blue globe popped up. "Of course, Shepard. I suggested it to Jeff." She paused as if weighing her next words. "I recorded as much data as I could on the Bahak system, Shepard, before we fled. The Alliance might find it very illuminating."
I blinked rapidly. "Thank you, EDI. Joker, I'll be in my quarters. Let me know when we reach Arcturus."
I was taken into custody immediately, of course. To no one's surprise, The Normandywas impounded and my omni-tool was confiscated. They did stop short of pulse restraints, though. Plain handcuffs were rather pointless when you could bend matter with your mind but they put them on me for the show. I was paraded through the station to another docking bay, this time for a ship headed to Earth. Every member of the press from every species in Council space shouted questions at me and chased my security detail through the station. If I didn't know any better, I'd say Udina planned it this way. Just for that extra humiliation.
"Shepard! Is it true you blame all batarians for Mindoir?"
"Did you wipe out Bahak to avenge your family?"
"Shepard! Is it true the Reapers are just an excuse to abuse your Spectre status just to kill innocent alien civilians?"
"Did you join the terrorist organization Cerberus so you could murder non-humans?"
And then the crowds found me. "Monster!" "Murderer!" "Baby killer!" I collapsed, stunned, against a bulkhead, my head reeling from the impact of something heavy against my head. I felt the warm, familiar dampness of blood leaking from a cut in my hairline. They hated me. I shook my head to clear it. They hated me. They absolutely hated me. More objects began pelting me and my guards and they finally got the message and grabbed me by my upper arms and rushed me toward our waiting ship.
Somehow, the hearing was expedited. Probably to appease the batarians and the other Council races shouting about human arrogance and war mongering. After spending hours attempting to defend me and go over the evidence EDI had recorded, we'd been sent to wait while the tribunal deliberated. The distaste on the judges' faces was plain. I'd forced my chin high when they told us to wait outside. Anderson sat next to me on the cold hard bench in the echoing hallway outside the chambers. "So why the hell did you resign?" I needed something else to focus on or my guilt would eat me alive.
He chuckled. "I told you I hated being a politician. And then you went and blew up a star system. Udina's a better man to keep us from going into a war we can't afford with the batarians anyway."
I nodded. "Nice story. Did you practice that one?"
"Every day in the mirror." I snorted. We both sat on the hard plastisteel bench, our class "A's" tight across our shoulders and around our necks, waiting for my verdict. Anderson had acted as my advocate, though he never said whether he agreed with my actions in Bahak or not. I had a feeling that to him, it didn't matter. I'd done what I had to. I didn't know whether to be upset he supported me, or feel grateful.
The door opened to the chamber and the ensign ushered us back in. It wasn't quite a Court Martial. This was more a diplomatic exercise. I stood still for a moment and let my eyes adjust to the brighter natural light of the chamber, sunlight streaming in through skylights like some sort of benediction, after the dimmer artificial light of the hallway. Anderson gestured for me to precede him to the heavy mahogany table in the center of the room. I merely stood behind it and rested my hands lightly on its polished surface. I breathed slowly through my nose to settle my nerves. The way Garrus had taught me to before lining up a headshot.The thought was so random I almost smiled. But it cheered me enough to ignore the acid in my stomach and add steel to my spine so I could raise my eyes to the three talking heads who sat in judgment of me that I'd never met before.
"Lieutenant Commander Avery Diana Shepard, we hereby strip you of your rank and commission and sentence you to house arrest until such time as a settlement can be reached with the Batarian Hegemony. You will not leave your quarters except under guard. You will remain under surveillance the entire time, due to your associations with the terrorist group Cerberus. After such settlement has been reached, your sentence will be revisited. Sergeant, please remove Ms. Shepard's rank insignia and take her to her quarters."
The Ms.hurt more than I ever thought it would. As did the cold eyed young man who crossed to me and without ceremony, began yanking the hardware from my uniform. Anderson shot to his feet and started protesting, loudly. I couldn't really hear him over the hollow sound of my own heart in my ears. My gaze skimmed past the sergeant's cold eyes and I focused on the grain of the faux wood that made up the judges' podium. The sound of cloth ripping as he was none too gentle with my uniform accompanied the twist of my stomach and the sound of my pounding heart in my ears.
Please God, don't let this be for nothing. Let this unite everyone. I can take being the villain if it means they fight. Together.
"Know this as you die in vain. Your time will come. Your species will fall."
I'd heard about Bahak. Who hadn't? The batarian government hadn't yet put out a price on Avery's head, but it was probably only a matter of time.
Watching Avery's arrest from the hotel lounge had been torture. The bartender went to change the vidscreen when some jackass shouted that it was boring. "Stop. Wait, isn't that the first human Spectre?" I'd called attention to it, to her, just to keep the channel open. I winced when the first object, a datapad it looked like, hit her in the temple, hard enough to draw blood, despite her augmentations. I found myself on my feet, struggling not to flare as something else heavy hit her in the temple and she staggered, landing against a bulkhead. Her guards finally got the message and hauled her to the Alliance's airlock in double time.
I think the worst part, though, was the handcuffs. It reminded me of the pulse restraints the Blue Suns had used when they'd captured her. And how helpless I'd felt watching her be dragged away. I paid my tab and fled the hotel bar, worried I'd hurt someone if I lost control.
Meeting Admiral Hackett the next day, I stood in front of him, his craggy face highlighted from below by the orange light of the terminal. His office was dimly lit, making the glow that much more eerie. "You can't let this happen, sir."
"I have no choice in the matter, son."
"There has to be something we can do." I couldn't believe that Avery found Bahak an acceptable sacrifice. Not even as desperate as she was to stop the Reapers. The press had decided to tar and feather her and the Alliance was letting them. I did have to wonder why she wasn't fighting to defend herself, though.
"There isn't! But right now, it was all I could do to keep her out of jail. The batarians want blood and Parliament was all too willing to give it to them, especially after Cerberus."
I resisted the urge to call my superior officer a weaseling politician to his face. I clenched my jaw and took a deep breath. "With all due respect, sir, you and I both know what's coming."
"Which is why you're to report to Grissom Academy. I want your opinion on this Jacqueline Naught. Kahlee Sanders thinks she'd be a good instructor." I wanted to laugh at the picture of the volatile biotic from Shepard's team that appeared on my omni-tool. Instructor, no. Drill Sergeant? Maybe. "I also want you to hand pick a few graduates and teach them everything you know."
I raised an eyebrow at Hackett. "Everything I know?"
"Within reason, Staff Commander." He cleared his throat.
I had my orders.
Another hotel bar the next night and I watched the press conference where her sentence was announced. The bartender happened to have it tuned to Westerlund News and I rolled my eyes at Kalisah bint sinan al'Jilani's triumphant voice as she relayed Shepard's sentence. "In a recorded statement today, the disgraced Spectre and former Commander of the Alliance had this to say."
The screen flickered and Avery, looked exhausted and haunted clutched both sides of a podium as if her life depended upon it holding her up looked into the cameras. "I do not regret destroying the relay in the Bahak system. I do regret that there was no time to evacuate the colonists, no time to warn anyone. But it had to be done to stop what was coming. Hate me all you want, vilify me. But war is coming. The Reapers are coming."
I stared at the screen in shock. She was willing to be the most hated woman in the galaxy if it got people ready to fight? I leaned back in my chair, staring up at the haggard woman on the vidscreen as she spoke. The dark circles under her blue eyes looked more like bruises, now. The healing cut on her temple and the purpling on her opposite cheekbone stood out in stark contrast on her fair skin. She stood in her casual clothes of a plain black t-shirt and black trousers and boots, the dull metal of the handcuffs glinting on her skin. I paid for my drink and went to my room.
"Joker, what the hell is going on?" I'd tried to comm Avery, but I hadn't been able to get through. So, I tried the next most likely person.
The pilot looked back over his shoulder at someone and waved. He turned back to roll his eyes at me and waited for a moment. "Good, she left. Two days and Traynor's getting on my nerves. What do you mean, what's going on?"
He rolled his eyes. "That. Well, official channels have her under house arrest indefinitely. No outside contact at all."
"The batarians want her head." His tone implied I was an idiot for asking that particular question and I supposed he had a point.
"Can you get a message to her?"
"Of course not. Don't be ridiculous." The screen blanked as Joker cut the feed. I was tempted to comm him back and yell at him when I received an incoming message alert from my omni-tool. Surprised, I opened it.
I can relay any messages to the Commander you need, but I advise you to keep it short. I'm sure you can guess why.
Please tell the Commander that I'm waiting.
I plan on a sequel to Paragon of Virtue, but I want to see what Bioware does with the DLC first. In the meantime, I'll be working on my other fics. Hope you enjoyed the ride with me. One of these days, I hope to revise this story and even out Avery's and Kaidan's characterization. But, I've got so many other projects right now, it'll have to wait. Thanks for reading!