Disclaimer: Because Bioware didn't feel like going there, I did.
If you're offended by anything religious... well, read anyway, because I think it's a good story. XD
Substance of Things Unseen
Night cycle on the Normandy SR2. Still getting used to the rhythms of working in a team, of living among many after having been alone for so long, Thane was grateful that humans required more sleep than the average drell. The last part of the night cycle was a chance to re-center himself; to connect.
There were a few third-shift crewmen about in the mess as he stepped out of Life Support, but they were bleary eyed and focused on their coffee, not the silent alien in their midst.
Busying himself with making tea, Thane couldn't help but recall the mission from the previous day. Shepard had the Normandy in the Rosetta System to scan planets for resources.
"It may be boring," she'd said in response to Joker's sarcastic remark, "but getting this stuff is what is going to keep the new Normandy from being sliced apart like the old one."
The bearded pilot hadn't anything to say to that.
But in scanning one small, unremarkable planet, Shepard had unexpectedly stumbled across a Blue Suns beacon. Thane had been on the mission with Shepard and Zaeed when the mercenary nearly massacred innocent factory workers in pursuit of his revenge. Thane felt a low thrum of disgust form deep in his throat. He of all people knew that killing was necessary at times, but the innocent were to be spared whenever possible. If Thane thought of himself as precise as a surgeon's knife, Zaeed Massani was as subtle as a construction saw.
But regardless of the mercenary's thoughtless actions, Shepard saved the workers, and put Zaeed in his place. Unexpectedly, she also promised the older human that if any leads to Santiago's whereabouts came up, she'd follow them as long as it didn't interfere with the mission to destroy the Collectors. So naturally, when Zaeed heard about the Blue Suns beacon on the planet they were scanning, he'd all but jumped into the shuttle to head down to the surface himself.
Thane had been selected for this mission as well, possibly because Shepard already knew he could counterbalance Zaeed's reckless style with his measured caution. The mission had gone as well as could be expected—the mercs weren't highly trained, falling with minimal resistance.
The Blue Suns commander—Santiago—hadn't been at the base, but they did find a Prothean artifact.
Thane frowned at the memory, struggling as it tried to come fully to the surface. It wasn't that it was a particularly painful or traumatic memory, but Shepard's reaction to the artifact had been so unexpected….
Her armored body stiffens, one hand still poised on the alien console. Her soft human face contorts in agony, eyes wide open but unseeing. For a moment she almost looks like a drell caught in the grip of a mnemonic episode—a bad one.
"Commander?" He's never seen her like this and it startles him out of his composure. Zaeed mutters a curse and brings his rifle to bear on the artifact, but Shepard finally relaxes.
"I'm… fine," she says. Anyone else in the galaxy might have missed the slightest bit of a quaver attached to her words, but drell ears are keenly attuned to the nuances of sound and speech. Zaeed nods, reassured, and curses their bad luck in finding nothing but the dusty Prothean pyramid. Thane says nothing but watches Shepard closely. She is silent as they head back to the surface, but the incident—whatever it was—does not happen again.
"Thane? Are you okay?"
Thane emerged from the memory, his inner lids nictitating against the light. Yeoman Chambers hovered over him, her large green eyes peering at him with concern and—he was amused to see—a bright, professional curiosity.
"Yes, Miss Chambers, I am well. I was merely… thinking about the last mission." He allowed a reassuring smile to curve his mouth, mostly for her benefit. Humans had a difficult time reading the emotions of species whose facial muscles weren't as mobile as their own.
"Did something happen on the mission?" the redhead continued, drawing back, a small furrow between her brows. "The Commander seemed… withdrawn afterwards."
Thane hesitated. If what he had seen was correct, and Shepard had experienced some kind of mnemonic episode from dealing with the Prothean artifact, it was not really his place to say.
"The mission went well," he said. "Though I think perhaps she is disappointed at not finding this Santiago for Zaeed. This is the third Blue Suns outpost we've raided."
"Hmm. Yes," Chambers murmured, her face thoughtful. "I really ought to talk to Zaeed about his obsession with Santiago. It's not healthy."
"I would… not advise that, Miss Chambers," Thane said. "He and Shepard had a confrontation about it already. He seems focused on the mission right now. It would not be wise to divert his attention."
"You're probably right," she admitted, but something in her green eyes looked a little too intrigued by the thought of questioning the ruthless merc.
Thane stood from the mess hall table, taking his empty mug to the kitchenette. Chambers yawned and left her post by the mess table as he refilled his mug.
"Good night, Sere Krios."
"To you as well, Miss Chambers."
Thane took his new cup back to Life Support, ready to mediate on the new day and what it would bring. He had only just finished reciting the Song of Arashu when his sensitive hearing picked up a familiar tread of footfalls. Shepard. Thane checked his omni-tool. Still early for humans not on the night shift. What was she doing? Her footsteps seemed agitated for a moment—they paced to the right and to the left as if in indecision, then deciding on the left, toward the unoccupied Port Observation Room.
Thane sat for a moment as his tea steamed, then stood from his chair. Arashu was a merciful goddess. She would understand his compulsion and approve of it, he thought.
Back in the mess he filled another mug with the rest of the tea from the pot he'd made earlier. Perhaps he was being foolish, but the Commander had proved herself a friend on more than one occasion. Maybe it was time to prove himself one.
The door to Port Observation opened at his approach, and he was a little surprised to see Shepard curled up on one of the benches facing the viewport. Normally, she wore her military background like a second skin. He could see it in the proud way she held her head, the brisk march she used to get around the ship, and especially in the way she treated her crewmembers—with respect, as if each was a trusted and valued member of a team. But as he walked in, he was struck by the dejected slump to her shoulders, the way her knees huddled under her chin, and how her feet—for once not in combat boots—curled over the edge of the bench.
She looked up at his approach, eyes weary. Human eyes were as expressive as drell eyes in some ways, and he could tell by the dark smudges beneath them that she hadn't been sleeping.
He inclined his head in greeting. "Commander. I heard you come down, and thought you might like some tea. It's quite good."
She took the proffered cup gingerly, sniffing at the steam rising from its surface. "Is it… safe for humans?"
"It should be. It's from a human store on the Citadel."
She sipped, cupping her hands around the warm mug.
Thane sat silent for a moment, wondering how to broach the topic. But to his surprise, she started speaking first.
"Your memories of your wife... do you... regret them sometimes? I mean, not the happy events that made them possible, but how vivid they are?"
Thane sat back, looking out at the swirling stars; the pink smudge of the Widow nebula. "Sometimes, yes, they are a burden. I have known drell who have not wished to leave their memories as the transition to reality was too painful. They eventually become trapped in their own minds, unable to function. Eventually they die."
"Indeed." He looked at her over the rim of his cup. "You are troubled by memories?"
She drank from her mug again, not answering his question directly. "Human memory is a tricky thing. Often we have no difficulty remembering painful events, while happy events don't seem to stick as well. At other times, taste, hearing, or smell will trigger something." She smiled, a sudden light in the dim room. "Something Rupert made the other day took me back. For a moment, I could have sworn that I would have turned around to see my old navigator, Pressly, chiding Corporal Jenkins about something, and Kaidan would be—" She stopped abruptly, pressing her lips together in a thin line.
"I worry," she said, after a pause, "that bad memories can overpower the good ones."
Thane hadn't been on Horizon, but ships weren't nothing but rife with gossip. The manner of her greeting with the Alliance officer had been anything but private.
"Eidetic memory is useful on lonely nights, as I once mentioned," Thane said, staring out at the viewport, recalling without effort the feel of Irikah's deft fingers tracing his eyebrow ridge, trailing down his cheek, teasing the fringe of his frill, and stopping at the cleft of his bottom lip as if she was standing before him. He shook off the specter of his wife with an effort and continued. "But it cannot replace the warmth of another's touch." He paused. "His fond memories of you will overpower his shock and fear and grief. He will need time."
Shepard didn't say anything, the mingled hope and misery in her face plain to see.
"Was he who you saw today on the mission?" Thane sipped his tea.
"With Zaeed. When we saw the Prothean artifact, you seemed… disturbed."
Shepard looked confused for a moment, then shook her head. "No. It made me think of him later, and is perhaps why I'm here now, but the artifact triggered a… vision. Normally, the vision it caused me to see doesn't pop up except in my nightmares."
"The Prothean artifact gave you a… vision?"
"That was the beginning of the… incident with Saren and the geth," Shepard explained with a grimace. She told him a truncated version of her victory over the rouge Spectre Saren: the Alliance arriving on Eden Prime to pick up a Prothean artifact, only to have to deal with a colony under attack by the geth; of the beacon burning a vision meant for a Prothean physiology into her brain; of the Cipher gained from a thrall on Feros, which enabled her brain to start sorting out some of the pieces of the vision.
Shepard rubbed her eyes. "Liara still had to teach me some asari meditation techniques so I could calm down enough for sleep."
"Ah. So you came here to escape the nightmares?"
She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Something like that." She gestured toward the viewport, looking out at the starry expanse. "I come here to get perspective." She paused, eyes distant. "Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?"
"From your prophet Isaiah, correct?"
She looked at him appraisingly, eyebrow raised. "You've read the human Bible?"
"Your holy scriptures do not mention drell, or indeed any other kind of alien that I recognize."
Shepard grinned. "I've read an article making a pretty convincing argument that the nephilim mentioned in Genesis are in fact aliens."
His inner eyelids flickered over his eyes. "I know as well as any other that the religious beliefs of a person can substantially influence their actions and motivations in a given situation." He paused. "I once had a contract on a mercenary who claimed affiliation with the human religion Christianity. I wished to know what to expect." He paused. "I almost wished I had time to point out to him which teachings of your prophet Jesus he was ignoring," Thane said after a moment. "But I do not think he would have appreciated the lesson."
Shepard laughed. "It doesn't really bother me that drell, turians, or asari aren't in the Bible. Faith shouldn't be conditional; otherwise it wouldn't be faith." She turned to stare out at the slowly revolving stars, her next words soft. "Though every now and then I wouldn't mind some writing on the wall or a burning bush or two."
"I could set a bush on fire for you, next time we land on a planet with shrubbery."
Shepard sputtered over the tea she'd just taken a sip of, muffling her laughter with her sleeve.
"Do you feel as though your God is not listening to your prayers?" Thane asked a moment later.
Shepard's eyebrows furrowed in thought. "I… I'm not sure, to be honest. The Bible has many instances where people have risen from the dead—but always through the intervention of God's chosen prophets. Or, in the case of Jesus, because He was God Himself." She exhaled softly and sipped her tea. "I… I don't remember death, Thane. I remember suffocating." Her voice fell flat. "I remember the sound of the oxygen leaking out. I remember not being able to breathe and the feel of my saliva boiling in my mouth… and then I fell unconscious. I don't remember anything after that until I woke up in a Cerberus facility." Her eyes looked up to meet him. "My faith teaches that we go to God once we die—if that's true, why didn't I see Him? Why did I come back?"
There was an odd note to her voice. Thane hummed low in his throat. "You… wished to stay dead?"
Shepard stared at her tea, its steam furling gently into the air. "My whole family was murdered when I was a teenager. I've been waiting to see them again for a long time."
Thane sat back, silenced. He knew all too well the thrill of flirting with death; the half-repressed desire that this one mission, this one job would be the one to give eternal rest; peace. The fact that Shepard struggled with this death thirst was… disquieting. Perhaps, however, it was not unexpected, especially after learning that one you thought loved you turned his back on you.
"I do not claim to be an expert on your beliefs, Shepard," Thane began hesitantly, "but there are many occasions in your Bible where God worked through those who had no belief in Him."
Shepard looked at him, a question in her eyes.
"Perhaps Cerberus is being used for some greater purpose." Thane hoped his words made sense. Though he had no qualms about sharing his own beliefs with others, he did not consider himself a religious counselor.
Shepard looked up, and Thane was relieved to see some life coming back to her face. She closed her eyes, briefly, then nodded, as if in reply to some internal dialogue. Standing to her feet, Thane's breath caught in his throat. Outlined as she was against the glowing hues of the Widow, Shepard looked unearthly. Almost supernatural… almost…
Siha. The word rose in his mind without conscious effort.
"Looks like we've arrived at the Citadel. I'm going to get some breakfast." She nodded at Thane as she passed by. "Thanks for the talk. I'll… I'll think about what you said."