Disclaimer: I own nothing. It all belongs to Bioware / EA.
-Sewn and Silent-
I remember it all when I dream.
I am adrift in a silently insidious expanse, an all encompassing nether-sea. I am unable to stop my body from moving without the constraints of gravity; my trajectory is seemingly aimless but Fate has, underhandedly, already charted my destination. I am captivated in the moments that follow by what I see; my heart is drumming rapidly, a steady thunder that I can feel though terrifying hyper-awareness in every minute particle of my being.
Through my visor, I watch as the Normandy disintegrates into glinting fragments while devastating threads of light weave a complex pattern between them. It is an oddly beautiful image, made somehow more so against the backdrop of the planet Alchera, against the delicate spattering of stars and galaxies that I am now lost in. I watch as the Normandy succumbs at last to the final attack, as what very little is left of her is shrouded and wreathed in a daedal dance of fire. I close my eyes and twist aside as best I can, a futile attempt to protect myself from the imminent blast-wave. I know in that fraction of a second that it will do no good, that I am as lost as the Normandy, but that terrible crystallized thought cannot stop me from hoping, from praying, from fiercely willing my own survival.
I'm caught then in the energy of the aftermath, flung further in a graceless and accelerated tumble. All that has transpired has done so in an eerie silence, all sound stolen by the selfish vacuum I flounder so helplessly throughout. This sequence of events, seemingly lasting hours, has been prolonged by my great and immeasurable fear—a span as long as one breath to another is all that has passed. It is as I draw my next breath that I realize my surviving the destruction of the Normandy was not sheer luck, oh no—it has only been another part of the merciless endgame of Fate.
In this helmet that I have so often thought of as suffocating, it is becoming difficult to breathe.
The knowledge is swift, bone-liquifying in its terrible clarity. I reach around to fumble blindly at the small hose that supplies me with breathable oxygen. I feel the pressure of escaping gas pushing against my gloved fingers and I know what dire futures this foretells.
There is a rupture in my air supply.
I try to stem the leak with my fingers. I am fighting on numerous levels, now: fighting to force my lungs into finding and using the last dregs of air, fighting to stop that same precious gas from venting into pitiless space, fighting to ignore the fact that Alchera, glowing with a harsh yet ethereal light of the palest blue, is steadily and quickly growing closer.
Heartbeats. Still so loud to me as the only sound, so ominous, in this frightening splinter of reality I've been cast into. I cannot breathe. My lungs, my bones, my very blood begins to smolder. I am still wheeling through that which I used to see as peaceful, wondrous and mysterious, but the canvas of distant glittering stars and the luminous swirls of galaxies has incited within me now nothing but the most primal of despair.
Another revolution of my body and I see again Alchera, such a vividly stunning image, beckoning me downwards to experience its cold and harsh splendor. I close my eyes as my entire being ignites with a pain I could not have, until now, ever have fathomed. I have entered the planet's atmosphere. I will plummet to the earth, a shooting star with a soul, and burn with the intensity of every meteor ever seen by those who devoutly watch the night sky to make their earnest wishes.
I am burning. I cannot breathe.
My mouth opens then in a voiceless, empty exhale, a final and futile plea to the shining worlds shrinking behind me, a silent scream of rage sucked into the endless, consuming void.
I didn't wake abruptly from the dream. It wasn't the last vestiges of my own cries that had thrown me from slumber to sudden and disquieting reality. It had been the memory of that silence, in my final seconds above Alchera, that affectless, all-enveloping silence that had stifled my breath and my voice and my life. It prompted a reaction within me that I hated more than anything.
It terrified me.
Miranda had worried that, upon my premature awakening from a rebirth that had taken two-years, the abbreviated tests they'd conducted upon me to ascertain I'd returned mentally stable had been insufficient. She was right. Had they further delved into the question of my sanity after the trauma of having died and been reconstructed, they would have realized that the new Shepard—the improved Shepard—housed within her a fear so intrinsic and profound that it was a wonder I wasn't huddled in the corner, a mumbling and paranoid wreck.
Nobody had asked me the question that I knew was furiously alight within their minds. It was visible in their eyes whenever they found themselves facing me. It wasn't for worry of being rude that they refrained from letting the words slip past their lips—no, it was their uncertainty of how I'd respond to their inquiry as to what had happened to me after I died. Such a grave question. Such a crucial question, such an integral part of the hopes and dreams of so many. I wouldn't have answered even had they been able to ask.
Nothingness, I could have told them. Oblivion. An existential rift devoid of anything and absent of everything. I didn't die and simply pass into another plane to live on again in another heavenly, celestial form. I had simply ceased to be.
This, and the silence of my dream-state recollections—I was afraid now. I was always afraid. But I was Shepard, and I had returned from the clutches of the afterlife, reformed by the trials of my demise, to rise again stronger and triumphant.
Or such was the role scripted for me to play.
All this, I reflected on in the minutes that passed since I'd opened my eyes to escape that abhorrent silence. And when Joker's voice came over my personal comm to alert me that we'd arrived at Omega, I was relieved at the reminder that I had a purpose, something to drive and distract me. I cast off my single blanket and rose to my feet, raising my arms over my head and locking my hands together as I stretched. I winced as muscles I hadn't even known I'd had made known their complaints; I had still not healed entirely from my reconstruction. I lowered my arms, inhaled deeply, and made a pointed effort to cast away the lingering remains of the dream before padding across the floor of my cabin to the shower.
This was the day I would begin to build my team, to find people I could trust not only with my life, but with that of so many others as well. I would try to recruit people who would be willing to risk their own lives in this impossible quest while at the same time, recruit people to replace those I'd lost and loved. It was a tall order, for how many individuals, after hearing how grand the scale of our mission, would be eager to sign on?
Hopefully, I mused as I stepped beneath the almost-painful, needle-like spray of hot water, the answer to that question would be the two people I would approach today: the vigilante Archangel and the doctor, Mordin Solus.
Garrus was alive.
The gamut of emotions that coursed through me upon realizing the fierce and solitary Archangel was in fact my old friend was nearly crippling in its intensity. Simple and unadulterated joy was foremost, happiness to see someone I related to that period of time I now thought of as Before. Surprise, of course—I hadn't even considered the possibility that the infamous rebel and Garrus could be one and the same. And then relief, because now I had someone I could trust, someone who didn't regard me as a figurehead, or a construct, or some miracle who'd managed to cheat Death.
I nearly choked over his name when he removed his helmet and revealed himself to Miranda, Jacob and myself; so familiar that angular face and the long tapered points of his crest, the precise blue facial markings and those intense, ever-luminous eyes. I was then grateful that I'd worn a visor, for the tell-tale shimmer of tears in my own eyes would have been instantly apparent otherwise. The fact that I was so emotional was disconcerting, but then again, I'd been all over the map in terms of feelings since my rebirth. I swallowed hard against the knot of emotion in my throat, and moved on to asking the pertinent questions.
As he told me his path in the two years since I'd died, I found myself clenching and unclenching my hands. The desire to go to him and touch and simply hold onto him was damn near overwhelming. It wasn't an urge that stemmed from secretly harbored designs for romance; it was a more basic longing, to feel that which was real, that which was familiar, to have beneath my hands something concrete that I could use as an anchor. Garrus was my tether, my link to the old Shepard, that person I could vividly remember and claim to have been. But I wasn't that person, not anymore. In Garrus' sudden reappearance I had found—I hoped—some kind of deliverance from the fear I had of stepping into the role of a Shepard that didn't yet feel real to me.
Our plan of action to escape was too soon put into action. Together the four of us decimated the first few waves sent in against us. When the mercenaries began to attempt entry from the basement level, I left Miranda with Garrus and Jacob and I raced down to the lowest levels. Our mission to seal the doors there successful, we made our way top-side once again. Throughout this entire ordeal I was buoyed by an odd sense of jubilation, the cause being the unexpected discovery of Garrus. I felt more confident, more stable and safe, than I had since Miranda's disembodied voice had awoken me back on that space station.
Garrus' voice came over the comm suddenly, letting me know that part of the Blood Pack merc group-and more importantly, its leader-had found them on the floor above. I doubled my pace, taking the stairs two at a time, taking the corner in a controlled skid and hurtling towards the open-windowed room where Garrus and Miranda had remained; a sudden series of shots rang out, followed by an exuberant bellow I knew from past experience to be Garrus' victory cry. I smiled. The Blood Pack was no longer a problem. I slowed a bit with that realization as behind me Jacob crouched low with heavy pistol in hand at the railing to ensure we hadn't been followed. I entered the topmost room, prepared to to announce that the mercs on the lower levels had been dealt with, and stopped dead in my tracks.
I'd already died once.
This was the thought I held onto in that span of a mere few heartbeats as I stood with my assault rifle cradled tightly within my arms and blinked once, twice, to assimilate what it was I seeing. Garrus, with his eye aligned to the sight of his sniper rifle, whirling about as the Blue Suns gunship rose into view just outside the window. I knew, just as he did, what was about to happen; his attention had been diverted for just a half-second, long enough to make it a crucial and deadly error. I'd strayed too long from the room, intent on obliterating the last of the mercs as they'd tried to run for cover—a foolish and amateur error on my behalf, one I was about to intensely regret. And now, in a span of seconds that seemed to be caught in some type of inexplicable, slowing fetters, I watched the realization ripple across Garrus' turian features even as he made the choice to raise his rifle, sight it, and squeeze the trigger—
I'd already died once. And so I launched myself at him, struck him full-body from the side. I was no Vanguard, but I was now in possession of an impressive array of cybernetic implants, and I mustered enough force in that short, propelling burst to send him sprawling in an uncontrollable tumble over the arm of one of the many chairs that littered the room. I think he shouted something as he fell, as he twisted about to see just what had struck him, as he realized it was me—but my ears then heard only the roar of the gunship's main weapon.
This is really going to hurt, my brain helpfully supplied in those moments that seemed to still be suspended in a slowed current. Beryllium and tungsten plated armor had been more than sufficient in numerous firefights against mercs or vorcha, but this was a large-caliber cannon I was facing, and my flashy ERCS gear just wasn't up to par. All this I had known the moment I'd chosen to shove Garrus aside and take the attack meant for him, but the difference between that knowledge and the sudden, unavoidable, terrifying realization of just what I was about to experience more than enough to make me issue a fervent, quicksilver prayer to anyone listening that maybe this wouldn't go down the way I thought it would.
Facing the gunship in that flash of a second that followed, I was rendered suddenly immobile; in my mind, I was back in space above Alchera, unable to breathe, aflame while around me there was only that heavy and impenetrable blanket of mind-numbing silence—
Time snapped back into flow. I tried to get out of the line of fire. I managed a quarter-turn and a lunging step before the linear spray of bullets tore into me. They chewed their way up my leg, grazed my side, punched through my shoulder and I know the sound I heard then—warped and deepened by the intricate convolutions of time caught within agony—was my own raw scream. Even then I managed to twist around, stumble forwards and nearly collapse as the whole of my weight came down on my wounded leg. I had thought then that I might make it, that I could topple forwards and be safely behind the cover provided by the wall. It was an erroneous assumption. My brain interpreted the sound of heavy artillery being fired too late, and the blast exploded the floor at my feet before I could complete my dive for safety.
What happened then, I can't be sure. Pain of course, the type that consumes you in an unrelenting onslaught and causes reality to ripple in and out of your awareness. Noises persisted in tumultuous disharmony all around me but it was too hard to focus on what they meant.
At least I think that's what I heard. They syllables were all there—it sounded like my name, but I was still riding the unsteady ebb and flow of suffering and confusion. I was going to die, again. But even in the haze coating my mind, I knew that this wasn't like last time. There was fear, yes, but it wasn't the abject terror I'd known as I'd began to fall to Alchera. This time was different. This time, I wasn't alone.
"Shep—" More voices, distorted as though by Doppler Effect. Eventually I could distinguish one noise from amongst the tangled knot of others, could make out one in particular saying something over and over again.
I was aware of my limbs now, aware of the alternating throb and stab of numerous grievous hurts. The world was slowly and painfully re-establishing itself around me. I hazarded opening my eyes—only one would respond—and found that Garrus' visage had taken up my entire field of vision. His mouth was moving, and I made the foolish choice to forget my wounds, forget the still major danger surrounding us, and tried instead to focus on understanding what he said.
"Shepard, stay—" was all I could understand before my translator, damaged by the blast, cut out. His words then were turian, strangely beautiful in their sibilance, lilting as they rose and fell with his voice; the flanged effect was more prominent in his native tongue than it was filtered through the translators. Through my one good eye I watched Garrus pull back, turning his head slightly to speak to someone—Miranda?—hovering on the very peripheral of my vision. Then he was leaning down again, his face right above mine, and I felt hands on me, probing, gently squeezing, inciting razor-edged tendrils of feeling to wend their way through my body. I tried to vocalize a protest to their ministrations and choked, the taste of blood suddenly thick in my mouth. I began to cough, and the involuntary spasms were agonizing as they pulled at the other, wounded parts of me.
"Try to relax, Shepard," Miranda's voice, next to my right ear as I struggled to make my reluctant lungs resume their duties. To someone else, she said, "We need to get her to the Normandy. Now."
Darkness was beginning to cloud the edges of my vision. I had ceased coughing, but it was still difficult to breathe. I heard the voices of Jacob and Miranda rise in urgent crescendo. I knew I was only instants away from blacking out completely and I welcomed that revelation—with that oblivion I would be mercifully unaware of the pain. Hands were shaking me, urging me to stay awake, but it wasn't a matter of mere willpower. Garrus, still looming over me, was trying to communicate in words I couldn't comprehend though his intention of keeping me awake, of reassuring me, was very clear. And then, as if realizing the reason for my confusion, he lowered his head until his mouth was next to my ear and spoke.
"Amory," he said, and without the aid of the translator the word was lengthened, almost intonated as he struggled to form the unfamiliar syllables. It was a word I hadn't heard spoken for years. It was my name. Even in my current, disoriented state, it was a bit of a shock; I had ceased to be Amory quite some time ago, instead assuming the mantle of Commander Shepard.
"Amory," he said again, more easily this time. He pulled back enough to be able to stare directly down into my face; I could almost feel him willing me to stay awake, so fierce the light of his gaze. But this was not a struggle I could win, and then finally, thankfully, the last threads of consciousness fell away.
I lived, of course. After having been crushed by atmospheric pressure and burnt to a crisp, a few bullet wounds and burns were easily enough repaired by Doctor Chakwas and the other medical minds of Cerberus. I lost two days to further reconstructive surgery and another five recuperating. By the seventh day I was so tired of the sterile white walls of the new Normandy's med-bay that I had determined that, short of restraints, nothing could keep me there another day longer.
Chakwas tried to persuade me I needed more time to heal, but in the end I proved I could be just as mulishly stubborn as the old Shepard, and throwing her hands up, she agreed to discharge me. I waved off her offers to help me strip off the standard bland white, tissue-thin medical gown and help me don my uniform. Being unable to dress myself was not an option and would lend credence to her argument that I wasn't yet fit for duty. I needed to be busy, to focus on the enormous task at hand; too easily had the dream and the terrible memories found me in the open tedium of doing nothing all day. The good doctor, usually even-tempered, bestowed me with a disapproving scowl before closing the shutters and leaving the med-bay to give me the privacy to dress.
It was not a pleasant affair. Every part of me still hurt in varying degrees; my limbs were all quite stiff despite the daily routine of simple exercises I'd been doing. From what I could see of myself without a mirror, my skin was now a canvas of scars; I imagined the whole picture was less than pretty. After attempting to squirm out of the gown, I finally ripped it and stepped out of the tattered remains. Donning my uniform was a study in pain and exasperation and I almost called Chakwas over the comm to ask for assistance. Finally, however, I gritted my teeth and forced my arms through the sleeves that fell far too constricting, poked my head through the collar, and with several muttered obscenities finally managed to pull the shirt down over my stomach. Breathing hard, body aching, I leaned back against the bed I'd previously been occupying and took a moment to rest and revel in the fact that I'd managed to successfully clothe myself.
There came a sharp knock at the door. "Yeah," I called, thinking it to be the doctor.
The door opened to reveal Garrus, instead. He stepped slowly into the room, head cocked to the side as he studied me silently. He looked different without the armor I was used to seeing him in; the form-fitting, dark synthetic weave of the Cerberus uniform made all the sharp, predatory angles of his turian anatomy more prominent. It made him look unfamiliar, and I was vaguely unsettled by that fact. Warily, I waited for him to speak.
"Your cybernetics are showing," he finally said.
I smiled and discovered that even that small movement caused pain to dart up and down my nerve endings. "Yeah, well, I looked much worse after they found me the first time."
"So I'd imagine."
He'd moved to lean against Chakwas' desk. The silence that followed was oddly strained. I knew he was angry; the tense lines of his body, the maintained flare of his crest and the set of his mandibled jaw made it obvious. And if I'd had any further doubts as to his current mood, there was a fierce and pointed light in his blue-grey eyes as he leveled upon me a hard and unrelenting gaze that served to confirm my suspicions.
The stubborn side of me wanted to remain quiet and see how long it would take for him to speak. The logical side of me decided that this situation would not be aided by my acting in an infantile manner. With an inward sigh I squared my shoulders, met his eyes, and broke the silence.
"I had to." No point beating around the bush; we both knew why he was here. I hated participating in conversations where the real issue was danced around, besides.
The heat in his voice made me wince. I lifted my left hand, gestured to the still-healing scars on my face. "I've survived worse."
"You idiot." He pushed himself away from the desk and stalked over to me. Every step he took radiated a menacing fury and I found myself inadvertantly taking a step back to escape him. I checked the movement and instead held my ground until he stood mere inches from me.
"Shepard," he said, his voice thick with anger; the flanging was more prominent with the emotion coating his voice. For a moment he said nothing else, staring down at me from the vantage of his considerable height. My own stature being somewhat diminutive in comparison, I had to crane my head back in order to maintain eye contact.
Finally he sighed, an explosive exhale, "You shouldn't have taken the hit for me."
I found myself repeating what I'd said earlier, unable to think of anything else. "I had to."
He shook his head, backing off a little. "Explain to me why you think so."
The real reason, of course, was something I couldn't vocalize. I'd pushed him aside because I'd come back from something far worse—from death—but I'd also done it because I hadn't wanted to lose something I held so dear. As trite as it sounded, it was the truth. This new life I'd been given, this body that had been rebuilt, this consciousness that had been fished from the depths of oblivion—it was all mine, yes, but it wasn't me. To everyone else, I was the same Shepard that I had been two years ago. But I wasn't, in ways I couldn't in even begin to explain. I had been resurrected physically superior to what I had been before, and I was sound of mind, but something was missing, some vital component that left me feeling hollow and incomplete. I hadn't realized how much I'd needed something to link me to that old life, my old self, to keep me from feeling like I was still adrift. Garrus was that link.
"I knew I could take it," I said, and even to me it sounded lame.
He shook his head again, "No, you didn't. I saw your face, Shepard."
He was right. I hadn't know whether I could survive or not. I'd made the choice to keep Garrus alive simply because I couldn't let him die. "Maybe you're right," I said slowly, "but what difference does it make now?"
The sound he made was equal parts disgust and exasperation. The slender, tapered ends of his fringe flared slightly outward with the sound, alerting me as to just how great his discontent ran. He turned away, paced back to Chakwas' desk, and leaned back against it once more. There was an ardent glow to his turian eyes, a testament of his anger, and I found it exceedingly difficult to actually meet his gaze and hold it. Once more silence fell between us, reminding me of the purgatory I'd known in the minutes before my demise, but I couldn't think of anything to say that would ease this raw tension. Apologizing wouldn't help. Neither would venting the confusion I felt now. The stillness went on, wearing at my nerves; at war with the frayed edges of my psyche I was almost startled by the sound of his voice.
"I would have followed you to hell and back, Shepard."
"I know you would have, Garrus." It was hard to get the words past the lump in my throat. This entire conversation, as disjointed and anger-fueled as it had been, had thrown me so off-kilter that I hardly knew what I was feeling. There was my own anger, a righteous indignation that was, I knew, out of place in this argument. Resentment. Guilt. And underneath it all, a sinuous ribbon of something I couldn't and didn't want to name. I swallowed once, twice, and then asked a question that added a little undercurrent of panic to the mix as I wondered what his answer would be, "And now?"
"And now? Now you're different."
It was my turn to make a noise of dismissal, to try and disguise the fact that his response was alarming for more than one reason. My legs ached, my back hurt, my ribs were bruised, and the bones of my face were throbbing; I carefully lowered myself to sit on the edge of my former bed. Aware that Garrus was still watching me from across the room, I schooled my face into an impassive mask as to not reveal the level of my discomfort.
He waited until I was seated before he started speaking again; he hadn't expected a reply and I hadn't given one. "Something isn't right with you. You look the same. You talk the same. But you're not the Amory Shepard from before."
That shock again, from hearing my actual name. I remembered then when he'd whispered to me, when I'd been lying bleeding on the floor of an abandoned building in Omega, certain I was about to die yet again. I recalled the way it had sounded without the translator, falling from his mouth shaped by a tongue unfamiliar with the consonants and syllables.
"Did they do something you? Interfere somehow with your mind? Make you more malleable to their suggestions and motives? Remove some vital core of memories? I knew something had changed the moment I saw you in my scope. You even move differently than you used to. You seem almost—" Here he paused, shrugging and raising a hand as though searching for the right word. "You seem almost hesitant. If this is the real you, Shepard, unchanged, then yes, I will follow you to hell and back. But how can I be certain? You're asking a great deal of your team this time around."
"I know I am," I said, bringing my hands to my face as though to rub the ache away. "I'm still me. I can't prove it to you. I remember everything that happened before. I remember our conversations, I remember our missions together, I remember—"
His question snapped my head up, my hands falling away. He was watching me with that same piercing intensity; in the bright light of the med-bay, his eyes were suddenly a luminous threat. I opened my mouth to reply but found that I couldn't. Instead, I looked down to where my hands lay folded in my lap, and silently willed him to understand.
I heard him push away from the desk and head for the door. Anxious to stop him yet fearing to do so, I relented and gave him the answer. "Yes."
He halted, half-turned to face me. "Will you tell me?"
No, my mind said, but I wondered then, why not? It was no secret how I died. When I began to speak my words were oddly stilted as I forced them out of my mouth. I couldn't look at him, so my eyes began to trace linear paths from the floor to ceiling and then back again.
"I survived the explosion. I don't know how. But something—shrapnel, maybe—had sliced my air hose. I was suffocating. And the blast had thrown me into the planet's atmosphere. So I began to burn."
"Shepard." His voice was heavy with something akin to sympathy, or pity. I didn't want to know which because I didn't need either of those from him. I wasn't sure what I needed.
I wanted to tell him more. I wanted to tell him that I couldn't stand silence anymore, that even when I slept there was the soft hum of music in the background, that the enclosed space of any helmet now made my pulse race and skin go clammy. I wanted to tell him that I was hesitant, because I knew now what awaited me after death, and it was nothing I wanted to experience again anytime soon. I wanted to tell him, conversely, that I'd taken those bullets meant for him because for some reason too convoluted and labyrinthine for me to unravel, I couldn't have stood there and watched him die.
Instead, I said, "It wasn't something a person gets through unscathed. But I assure you, Garrus, I am the same as I used to be." I pushed myself off the bed, stifled the pained groan before it passed my lips, and nodded to emphasize that I deemed the discussion now over. I read in his expression that he wanted to pursue the issue, and so I met his look with the direct gaze of Commander Shepard, trying hard to broadcast an imperiousness I really did not feel. Apparently, it worked; he bobbed his head once in submission to my unspoken order.
"The same Shepard, save for a few cybernetic implants?" He asked, a teasing note in his voice as I walked past him towards the door. I was grateful for his willingness to change the subject tone, though I knew this discussion would continue at some other point in time.
I smiled and immediately wished I hadn't. "Just a few. Thanks for checking in on me, Garrus. I'll be going over some things with Kelly if anybody needs to speak with me."
Aware of his eyes on me, I managed to make my way out of the med-bay with only a slight limp, biting down hard on the sounds of pain.
I'll no longer be haunting here,
I'm not coming back.
The world must know my story ...
So long, Amory.
[The End Complete V: On the Brink – Coheed & Cambria]