Ash: Twilight of the Innocents
A/N: We're back! I said July, guess what, I lied! Man, it has been a while since I've written anything in the SI zone…but now exams are basically over and it's time for Masses to Masses 3. And yes, they went well, thank you. Except Latin, that was a total trainwreck, but who cares?
If you clicked on this without having read Masses to Masses 1 and 2, then I salute your optimism. But in all seriousness, you should probably go and take a look at them before you make tracks with this. MtM1 is a wee bit of a slow starter, but things really start picking up about Chapter 5.
Well, I know towards the end of MtM2 I was churning out chapters faster than some people update their Facebook page, but…well, it might not be so easy for now. I still have a lot of commitments, even though I'm on holiday, I might actually have to find a job now school's broken up (seeking gainful employment, ha, what's up with that?) But I swear to you, unless I specifically state otherwise on my profile or something, at least a chapter a week.
Chapter lengths might also vary a bit now. I have a rough plan of events for the first time, rather than just winging it, so I already know there's gonna be fluctuations. But it's all good!
So, without further ado, let's get this show on the road! I know it's been a while since MtM2, so allow me to refresh your memory of the story so far. Right after obligatory disclaimers!
Mass Effect, its characters, its setting, and all the other stuff in the Mass Effect universe is not owned by me. It's owned by the geniuses at BioWare. I also do not own any real bands, companies, products etc. that I mention.
'The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world...'
G-Man, Half Life 2
Hi, I'm Ian. Ian Shaw, or just Shaw, maybe Charles Carmichael if I'm undercover…it doesn't really matter, just whatever you prefer.
Well, except Charles Carmichael, since that's just an alias. And referring to someone by their full name is a little odd...anyway, here's some stuff you should probably know, or maybe just forgot.
A cool two and half years ago, I was dragged into this universe, the Mass Effect universe, by a dimension-jumping asari named Shiara T'Aeoni, for reasons only she seems to know and takes great pleasure in not telling me. But we'll get to that in due course. I ended up on the Citadel two years before the events of the first Mass Effect game, visions of seeming Prothean origin whirling around my head and foretelling the end of the galaxy, and I only had the clothes I was wearing, a few trinkets from 2010, and my endearing personality to my name.
After a bit of panic, coincidence, and just sheer luck (which is kind of a recurring theme for me around here), I managed to obtain a job as a detective in C-Sec. Not just any detective, as well. Garrus Vakarian's partner. That's where this whole damn thing really started.
Two years of fighting crime, taking names, filling in considerable amounts of paperwork and forming an iron bond of friendship with Garrus was ideal preparation for the challenges ahead with Saren, even if giving some guy who's never fired a gun before a weapon and asking him to be a hero was never going to go perfect. But hey, I'm still breathing.
The time at C-Sec was eventful, to say the least. Elcor biotics with murderous intentions and a narrowly foiled plot to poison the red sand network were highlights, along with a girlfriend by the name of Rebecca Simmons. But Dr. Saleon is where all that changed. Not only did he manage to escape just as he did in canon, but with Rebecca too, revenge for our efforts to stop him.
A few months after that, Garrus and I woke one morning to the news I had been waiting for. Eden Prime had been attacked, and Commander Shepard was on her way to the Citadel. After an investigation into Saren that may as well have had us bashing our heads off a wall for a few hours, we rushed to see Executor Pallin about a lead we discovered…and of course, first saw Commander Shepard. It was then that my vision flared up, and showed her dying. Which, obviously, wasn't ideal.
Following that, though, our investigation into the lead had Garrus and I end up on the Normandy crew, and catapulted us into Mass Effect events. Recruiting the other crew members, fighting Saren across the galaxy…my combat skills have improved no end (including a dual-pistol combat style, and a fancy Advanced Suit helmet a la Dead Space 2), I've formed new friendships with unlikely people (Urdnot Wrex being a prime example), and visited exciting (and often lethal) new places.
It wasn't all fun and games, though. We lost people…Ashley Williams, killed on Virmire by Saren, despite our efforts to rescue both her and Kaidan Alenko. Rebecca herself showed up dead on Saleon's ship, the Fedele, transformed into creatures resembling the necromorphs from Dead Space. The doctor himself got 'interrogated' at C-Sec, and moved to a high security Alliance prison. I've been choked by krogan, shot, attacked by a pack of varren, fallen off the skyway on Feros with only Garrus's talon saving me…we've all had our fair share of injury, that's for sure. But it was worth it, for what we accomplished.
Some serious relationships were formed over our time on the ship, too. Tali'Zorah and I 'hooked up', for lack of a better expression, as did Shepard and Garrus. But the secret of mine, about my origins and knowledge of the timeline, became more and more insecure as time went past. First, an attempt to gain a Cipher off the asari on Feros, Shiala, ended with her finding out about me, and my mind 'rejecting' the Cipher. The rachni queen herself managed to glean some information from my mind while I was unconscious for a moment on Noveria, and is now able to speak directly into my mind within a certain range, which is…disconcerting. To say the least.
In the end, though, I couldn't keep it from the people closest to me. I told Tali after our first date on the Citadel, and Garrus himself managed to work out that I was having Prothean visions from seeing Shepard sleep, so I spilled the beans to him as well. Though the two were shocked, Garrus in particular taking it hard, they eventually accepted it…and what it means. But the surprises weren't done, not by a long shot. On Ilos, I discovered to my amazement that I could understand a Prothean warning message. All this time, the Cipher must have been in my head. If I didn't think my presence would affect canon before, I sure as hell did then.
And what an effect it had. In the Battle of the Citadel, after everything we'd been through…a few words I'd said to Saren on Virmire had somehow made the difference between him being implanted by Sovereign and resisting. With the Reaper unable to exert total control, Saren managed to resist its influence long enough for Shepard to take control of the Citadel and save the Council…and Sovereign to be destroyed. In theory, it should have been perfect. Take Saren in alive, and question him.
But when have things ever worked in practice for us?
While we were distracted by the battle, Saren managed to slip a stun grenade onto the floor, incapacitating the whole squad long enough for him to escape. Though he had the chance to easily put a bullet in all of our skulls, he ran like a man with a guilty conscience. I swear I saw him mouth 'I'm sorry' before he disappeared, too. Perhaps a repentant Saren will be good for the universe…I don't know. Only time will tell. The galaxy was safe, anyway, and we could all finally relax. At least, for a few months.
Wrex left for Tuchanka, much to my chagrin (but the man has a clan to run), we all received official commendation for our role in the battle, Anderson took his place as the human councillor, and Tali, Garrus and I decided to stay on the Normandy until its destruction, the turian wanting all the time he could get with Shepard before the Collector attack, and Tali and I wanting the same for each other, postponing her return to the Flotilla. But, I had one last loose end to fix. Shiara.
The whole time, she had tried to influence my actions, telling me in no uncertain terms not to change canon. At first, I went along with it, seeing her as some super-power who could control everything with a thought…but she's not. She's a normal asari, and while she's afraid of change, I'm not anymore. Not if it can save people, and maintain the key events of the timeline. After running into Tom Sheridan of the Alliance on the way to meeting her, we had a blazing row, ending in me cutting off ties with her until she can give me concrete answers about what the hell is going on with my visions, Prothean Ciphers, and what she really knows.
After that, I returned to the Normandy and Tali…but it wasn't all over then. After talking to her in our room, deciding how to spend our break, she decided to show that even with everything going on in the galaxy, everything that was going to happen, she could trust me. I saw Tali's face, and believe me…it was amazing.
That, my friends, is where the story last left off. But before we return to the time a few months past that, first, we need to go to another time…two years ahead of it. To an asteroid in the Terminus Systems, that makes North Korea seem like an appealing holiday destination.
My name is Ian Shaw. And this? This is my story.
Somehow, I always manage to come through.
An explosion chips away at the balcony Garrus and I are crouched behind, sending a shower of debris scattering over our armour and cutting my face slightly, adding yet another to the multitude of small injuries I've picked up in my time here. Garrus takes a quick glance over the ledge, then pops up with the sniper rifle, taking aim and firing with almost superhuman…well, superturian speed. There's a yell from below as the round finds its mark, and the turian retreats back as a flurry of rounds pass where his head was a second ago. Garrus looks over at me and manages a tired smile, reloading his rifle.
Not this time.
We're both not as alert as we were a few hours ago, that's for sure. My finger's starting to hurt from constantly pulling the trigger, parts of my arm ache from the repeated reloads, and my eyesight's going a bit blurry from looking through the scope so often and general tiredness. I must have killed almost fifty mercs and freelances the time we've been up here, Garrus at least matching that figure. The gunfire sounds like it's getting closer to the base, so I lob a grenade over the balcony blindly and cross my fingers. The screams from below confirm it's good.
I…I messed up.
My thoughts start to drift back to the squad, Melanis, Ripper, the rest of them…but I push them down as they begin to surface. Too late to change what happened to them, too late to worry about it. My thoughts drifting is a sign I desperately need sleep…and sleep's just about the last thing I'm going to get around here. Gunfire and explosions aren't exactly contusive to a good night's rest, and you don't go to sleep on Omega unprepared at the best of times. As soon as you let your guard down around here, even for the smallest amount of time, you're likely to find a knife in your face and pocket a lot lighter than it initially was, and that's probably the best case scenario.
We should have been safe, not in this mess. Just waiting. Waiting for something that might not even happen.
"You alright?" Garrus asks from next to me, taking a rare break from shooting to talk.
"Still alive," I sigh, reaching over to our rapidly dwindling supply of heat sinks and popping another into the rifle. "So I can't complain. You?"
"Never better," the turian grimaces. "They just keep coming. I don't even know where they got the resources for this from."
I've got a fairly good idea… "You offer money for killing us, and tell them where we are, that's gonna get a whole lot of freelancers interested. The actual mercs stopped being stupid enough to try the bridge after the first three waves."
"How many waves have we done now?" Garrus asks.
"Probably about fifteen."
"Yeah." I lean out, but thankfully there's no-one out there trying to shoot us. Looks like that's another wave down…they'll be sending the next lot out soon, but at least this gives a slight respite.
There really might not be a way out of this one. Shepard's cue to enter, and no sign of her.
"Is she actually coming?" Garrus suddenly says, looking at me. "Or did you just say Shepard was going to be here to give me hope?"
"She's coming," I say firmly, not quite sure I believe myself. Considering the amount canon's been fucked up…what if there's not even a dossier for us? What if we've got fight our own way out? "We've just got to hold out a little longer."
"How did we even get here…" Garrus mutters, shaking his head. "Do you remember how this all started?"
I nod. How could I forget… "Yeah, of course. The Normandy's destruction, after Shepard…" Garrus looks really sad when I say her name, so I leave it out. He's only got my word the person he loves is still alive, after all, and I'm becoming increasingly cynical that she is. "That's when I knew, some way or another, everything was probably going to go to hell."
I lean back against the wall, and begin to remember. How we've come from Saviours of the Citadel to here, just comrades in arms looking death in the eye.
Two years, one month earlier…
Being sick really sucks.
It's a combination of factors, I guess. There's the initial queasiness, just striking when you least expect it. The whole day passes fine, then you're sitting in bed when suddenly it feels like something's wrong. You try and ignore it, but it just gets worse and worse.
Then there's the revelation of what's coming. You fight it, of course, try to hold it all back, think about something else…but it's impossible. The mad rush for the bathroom, then the act itself. The acidic taste in the mouth, lurching pains in the chest, then the ragged breaths as you try and pull yourself together afterwards, chills all over the body.
Which, coincidentally, happens to be the stage I'm at.
"Just breathe in, Ian, that's it," Doctor Chakwas says from next to me, as I try and support myself unsteadily on the rim of the toilet. Jesus, this isn't how I wanted to wake up. Tali and I had such a good time last night, too, watched a vid in bed, she took some herbal supplements just to have the mask off for a bit…got a kiss in before she had to put it back on, naturally, then we went to sleep together. I was kind of looking forward to gently waking up next to her in the morning.
But no. I get to chuck my guts up at 4am on the ship's time cycle. Life's such a bitch…
"Telling me to breathe, Chakwas, that's great advice," I manage to gasp, spitting in the bowl as I do so. "PhD obviously hard at work there. Maybe remind me to breathe out too?"
"You're irritable when you're sick," Chakwas mutters from behind me. I don't need to look to see the disapproving look on her face, lips pursed slightly, slight glare. I probably deserve that. "I mean, more than normal. Frankly, Tali, I don't know how you put up with him."
"Oh, he can be charming when he wants to be," I hear the quarian laugh behind me. "You have a point, though. Ian, don't be rude. It's not Chakwas's fault you're sick."
I shake my head slightly, but the motion makes my head pound as I do so. The vision flared up while I was sleeping, which I imagine hasn't helped matters, but the thing has never made me sick before… "I'm a detective," I grunt. "I like finding someone to blame."
"I reckon it could be an allergic reaction, you know," a new, flanging voice suggests, causing me to slowly look around at Garrus smirking down at me. Bloody hell, when did he get here? "Shepard and I have to look out for that, maybe you and Tali just got careless?"
"Oh, I didn't realise the whole crew was coming to watch," I say sardonically, then feel my stomach lurch again, but not enough to make me hurl. Come on, stop taunting me…the others notice me retch, but start talking again as soon as they realise nothing's coming of it.
"We weren't careless," Tali says firmly. She's right, too. The visor has come off plenty of times since the first night I saw her face…but we've never really taken it any further. And never kiss long enough for it to prompt a reaction this bad. "He must have just caught something, maybe it's food poisoning. Keelah, you did have that bit of chicken from the fridge that was going off…"
I moan slightly at the mention of food. Come on, not now… "It was only a day off its sell-by, and I practically incinerated it. No way." The more I think about it, the more it makes sense, though…the vision must have pushed me over the edge. Oh, man, now thinking about the chicken is making me feel sick again…shit…
I curl up in pain as my stomach empties itself, to the sound of wincing and a mutter of 'spirits, that's disgusting', then gasp for breath as the cold chills run down my body, making me shiver slightly. I don't even feel any better for throwing up like normal…
"We need to move you to the med bay," Chakwas says firmly. "Now, while you're inbetween vomiting. Garrus, help me carry him. Or drag him, whatever works best. Ian, can you walk?"
"I think so…" I say, my voice as unsteady as my body as I try to rise to my feet…and stumble into the wall slightly. I'm all over the place, raging headache, throat still burning slightly, chest heaving from my increased oxygen demand. As I grab onto Garrus's shoulder and he helps me move out the bathroom and towards the med-bay, I can't help but grimace slightly as I take in the surroundings passing me by, the centre of the Normandy I've gotten to know so well, Treysonic and big screen planted on the wall around tables and chairs, the kitchen in the corner, Liara's room and the med-bay…
Ordinarily, I'd be in a shite mood about being sick. But today, of all days…the fact I'm sick isn't even the worst part.
We've been in this system for three days now, Omega Nebula, currently cruising near Alchera. Which means today, of all days, is the day the Collectors attack.
I'm so fucked.
"That's two hours without vomiting now, Ian," Garrus says sarcastically from his seat next to my med-bay bed, the rest of the squad chuckling slightly next to me from their seats. "Good job."
"Thanks, buddy," I shoot back, but I'm feeling significantly better now, five hours after I was first sick. Finally seem to have cleared out my system…and my body's decided to give me a break. For now. All that I need to do is try and convince Chakwas to let me go back to my room, so I can get Garrus and Tali together…and start getting ready for the last day on the Normandy. For Shepard being spaced.
I can't help looking over at the Commander, sandwiched between Kaidan and Liara, laughing at Garrus's comment, her green eyes sparkling slightly, brunette hair hanging loose down to her shoulders. It still doesn't feel like it's going to happen…that today, the woman I respect and admire more than I can put into words is going to die. Things will be infinitely worse for Garrus, too…shit, I feel so bad for him. For this to happen to him. But he knows it has to be done, and he's come to terms with it. I hope.
The last few months have been brilliant, no other word for them. I mean, without the direct threat of the geth, the Reapers or Saren, we've finally been able to relax a little bit. Wiping out pockets of geth resistance, sure, but it's child's play to the stuff we've been through. It's more like an adventure holiday than anything else. We do geth killing during the day, then retire back to the Normandy in the evenings.
Tali and I…has been amazing. She's a one of a kind girl, and I do feel bloody lucky waking up next to her. Sure, it's not gone further than her visor coming off yet, but I'm totally cool with that. Just having her there is good enough, her company, her awkward little nuances…yep, I couldn't be happier with that. Plus we've been able to have dates that haven't ended in me dropping earth-shattering revelations and just gone like a normal couple, which was cool.
On the romance side of things, Garrus and Shepard. Hoo-boy. Now, while Tali and I have been pretty laid back, taking things really slow…Shepard isn't that type of girl. While I'm fairly sure Tali and I being together has barely shown up on the news radar, through a combination of us not really being blatant about it and people not really caring about the squad members anyway, Shepard and Garrus are arguably the galaxy's favourite couple.
Well, for most people. I take a quick glance at the look Garrus is giving Shepard, small smile slipping unconsciously onto his face, and chuckle slightly. The two are really in love, no doubt about it. At first, the media kind of picked up on them being close, often seen in public together, but the Alliance spin doctors managed to work it as a close relationship of trust from what we've all been through, along with a teacher/pupil relationship.
However, they couldn't really spin Shepard kissing Garrus in public on Valentine's Day. When I say in public, I mean in the middle of the fucking Presidium. Udina could probably see them out of his window at Anderson's office, which is probably why she chose there, now that I think about it. That sparked off a bloody media frenzy. Speculation at how long it had been going on for, the issues of loving a turian, controversy over the whole thing…
Shepard had made it pretty clear from the start she wasn't going to be covert about their relationship. She didn't want to have to hide anything if it got in the way of them, and frankly I'm inclined to agree. But still, I was braced for the worst when the story broke…and it never came. I'd forgotten one important thing.
Shepard's the Saviour of the Citadel. The Council, hell, the galaxy owes her their lives. She is 100%, pure untouchable. While people might secretly have their reservations, no-one is going to publically criticise Commander freakin' Shepard. Rather than riots and stuff, people were applauding her decision, saying it shows love has no boundaries, and was encouraging reconciliation between turians and humans. Totally worked that way, too. Our species have been noticeably more friendly in recent months, and the reporting on Shepard and Garrus has been surprisingly tasteful.
Well, except Westerlund News, but there's always got to be one troll. There's been some hate, as you would expect…but Shepard and Garrus really haven't given a shit, as you'd expect too. I mean, we stopped Saren and destroyed Sovereign. Clumsily written death threats aren't very, well…threatening. Not after all that.
Of course, the psychos like Terra Firma and other crazies blew their nut over the news, but they were firmly in the minority. Gave the extranet good targets to satirise, so I guess we owe them for that. People in the galaxy never cease to surprise me…here I was expecting a massive backlash, but I guess people are more accepting than I thought. Or at least, they're making out to be now. Something tells me it could turn sour after Shepard's death…but for now, it's good. While it lasts.
As the rest of the crew place bets on how long it's gonna be until I spew again, I can't help my eyes being drawn over to Tali just sitting there, laughing along with the rest of them. She's gotten so much more confident over the past few months, way less shy, more like her Mass Effect 2 self. Still gets all nervous and cute, but…she's matured. The Pilgrimage is supposed to be a transition into adulthood for them, and it's sure as hell worked.
Even Liara's managed to brighten up a little bit over the months we've been on the Normandy, though I suspect she's still holding a bit of a grudge over it not working out between us, despite what she thought to begin with. Which is kinda my fault…but hey, at least we're talking. Sometimes. Kaidan hasn't changed a bit, he's still calling me kid, and seems to have fully accepted the Garrus/Shepard situation, despite his initial misgivings. Then again, seeing as the vast majority of the galaxy has (at least publically), I can't say that's an enormous surprise.
Then there's Wrex. Been keeping in touch with him over mail, the odd video call whenever we both get the chance, which isn't quite as often as I'd like. He's ruling Urdnot at the moment, keeping Wreav in his place, all that good stuff. I'm proud of him. He does send some incredibly funny messages about what he's been getting up to in krogan politics…most of the time, it sounds like The West Wing, but if everyone was allowed to punch each other whenever they wanted. Which, Wrex and I both agree, is the best kind of politics.
That's been developments over the past few months, anyway. Council has almost totally swept the Reapers under the rug, despite Shepard and the rest of us constantly bringing it up, and Anderson's best efforts. This mission we're doing with wiping out geth is supposed to ensure they can't build another army again…but that's not really out biggest problem. Shepard's even said she's gonna call them out on it publically really soon. Which makes today even worse.
This happy little bubble I've been living in all this time…hell, this bubble we've all been living in, it's gonna pop today. Our home's gonna be destroyed. The rock that holds us all together, the light that guides us, Shepard, is gonna be snuffed out. Liara's going to go down her path of redemption, Kaidan can continue his Alliance career, Tali will go back to the Flotilla and Garrus to Omega. I've already tried to say goodbye to everyone who doesn't know my secret as best as I can…but not being able to be honest about it didn't help there. Still, I've made my peace with them.
It never really bothered me before, what happens when Shepard dies. I mean, some small part of my mind keeps forgetting that I have to live through the gap between ME1 and 2. I already know I'll be going back to C-Sec with Garrus until he leaves…but I'm not sure if I'm going with him. Omega is something he might need to deal with himself, seeing how important it is to him as a character, and I'm not too keen on becoming a vigilante. Not too keen on letting him go, either, but Garrus can handle himself. And I can always warn him about his squad when the time is right, now that change isn't as much of a concern since I told Shiara to fuck off after the Battle of the Citadel.
Haven't heard from her since, actually. Glad she's respected my decision…but the total radio silence is a little disconcerting. She doesn't seem the type to just give up and leave, so I imagine she'll still be keeping an eye on me somehow. As far as I'm concerned, though, let her watch. I'll give her a hell of a show.
If Garrus leaves by himself, though, that would just leave me on the Citadel alone. Unless I can convince Tali to stay…I mean, she doesn't have to go back to the Flotilla straight away for the timeline to work. I mean, by my estimations, we could take another year, at least. But I'd have to run that by her, and I'm not quite sure how she'd take that kind of offer. Then again, given the strength of our relationship, I can't see her saying no to another year together…
That kind of planning isn't for now, anyway. I can see Chakwas advancing across the med-bay towards us all, clipboard in hand. I think my vomiting phase has gone past, so this should be me getting discharged. Good. I hate being really ill. I doubt that chicken helped matters, but I swear to God, that vision I had was so strong. Haven't had it that bad for a long while…and it seems to have made me physically ill, or at least tipped me over the edge after the chicken. And just when I thought I was getting on top of the damn things. Bloody Shiara…
"You're suffering all the symptoms of a bad hit of food poisoning," Chakwas says sympathetically, as she stands by my bedside and the rest of the squad listen in. "Doesn't look like it's a virus, anyway. Keep hydrated, rest in bed, and you should be right as rain soon." Oh, great, stay in bed. I'll see if I can attach some wheels to it and get Tali to push me into the escape pod or something. Of all the days to become sick, why today! Especially when I know what's going to happen! What part of my mind made me think risking that chicken was a good idea the day before my life is going to be in serious danger?
"I think the vomiting's passed, at least for now," I mutter, trying to sit up and getting an almighty headrush that almost sends me straight back down again. I can hear Garrus chuckling as I clamber slowly off the bed, and he sticks out his arm to indicate I can lean on his shoulder, which I gratefully accept. Even though he's a good fifty centimetres or so taller than me, which makes actually leaning on him a pain, but it beats the alternative. "Thanks, man."
"Don't mention it," Garrus replies casually. "I'll walk you back to your room."
"I'll come too," Tali nods. Ah, I see. I did tell them to meet up with me today, in order to wait for the escape pods. Not taking any risks, so I guess this is them giving us an excuse to go and do that. Bloody hell…this is it. I keep expecting some hit of anticipation and fear about it, but part of me just plain isn't expecting it to happen. Not after everything we've been through, to just get torn apart in one day. For Shepard to die. For the Normandy to be destroyed. It's just so crazy to even think about it, I'm not sure I want to.
"Make sure he's comfortable," Shepard smiles at me. "Take it easy today, Ian. I'm sure we'll be able to cope without you for one day." I grin weakly back, almost wincing of the irony of the statement. I wish she could cope with today…but, Tali, Garrus and I know it's not going to happen. He'll have to go and try and say goodbye somehow properly today. He says he's ready for it happening…but nothing can prepare you for this kind of thing. At least her resurrection is some consolation for him, I guess. Not much, but the knowledge she's coming back is reassuring. I have to keep telling myself that, anyway.
"Nice to know I'm so valued in the field," I chuckle, trying to make light of her statement. "But thanks for caring, Shepard." Hell, this could potentially be the last time I talk to her for two years… "You've always been a good Commander like that. Really. I know I don't say it much, but I really appreciate everything you've done for me, Shepard. For all of us."
She raises her eyebrows, giving me an inquisitive look. "You know, Chakwas said you were supposed to be irritable when you're ill."
"Mood swings," I shrug, actually feeling like welling up a bit. I almost want to warn her…but I can't do that. Fuck. "I just realised I never really mentioned stuff like that before."
"Well, uh…thanks," Shepard says, a little unsurely, then a little smile creeps onto her face. "It's really not like you, though. Are you sure you're feeling well enough to be walking?"
"Is it really that surprising I'm being nice?" I ask incredulously, watching the other squad members laugh slightly at that. "Kaidan? I'm a nice guy!"
The LT just chuckles slightly. "Sure, kid. Whatever you say."
"I don't know why I bother," I say, but can't help smiling a little bit. "Express some gratitude for once, and this happens. Screw you guys."
"It is unlikely we would need your assistance in the field anyway, though," Liara points out, then catches the frown on my face. "I am not implying you are useless, Ian. But we've been in this sector for days now, and there has been no trace of geth. The Council may have sent us here to have us out of the picture for a while."
"Exactly what I've been thinking," Shepard mutters. "They still refuse to see the Reapers as a real threat, despite the fact one almost killed them. A job I'm tempted to make good on." I don't doubt her, to be honest. "They can't keep wasting our time like this. We don't know what they're planning, what the Prothean long-term plan Vigil told us is, we don't have any answers, and they send us here to search for ghosts!"
Kaidan shrugs from his seat. "We should be checking if the geth are completely gone, Commander. But you're right. They're trying to cover this up, like they did with Saren's escape." He's got a point there. Ask anyone you want in the galaxy about Saren, they'll think he's dead. That's how the Council sold it, said we couldn't recover his body because it got lost in all the destruction. Of course, there's conspiracy theories that he's still alive and kicking, and it's kind of amusing for once that all the crazy people are actually right.
"I'll talk to Anderson about it when we get back to the Citadel," Shepard sighs, shaking her head. "We could do with some time off there, anyway. Right Garrus?" She looks up at the turian, and gives him a broad grin. Oh, Shepard, any day but today…Garrus smiles back, but there's a definite sadness behind it. Fortunately, Shepard doesn't notice. "Anyway. Ian, go and get rested up. That's an order."
"Well, technically, since I'm not Alliance, you can't really order me around," I point out.
"Technically, since you're not Alliance, that means I'm allowed to hit you."
"I'm going, I'm going," I mutter, holding onto Garrus for support as Tali walks next to us. Shit, this is probably the last time with Shepard I'll have for two years, so… "See you, Commander. I meant what I said before."
She just laughs again, then gives me a genuine smile afterwards. "I know. And thanks, Ian. It's nice to get some appreciation."
"Don't mention it," I reply as I walk out of the door, forcing a smile onto my face, but it quickly fades as it slides shut behind me.
See you in two years, Shepard.
"How long now?"
"I don't know, Garrus. I haven't been able to pull that information out my ass since the last ten times you asked."
Tali gives me what's presumably a disapproving look, based off her body language. Folded arms, eyes wider than normal behind the visor…yeah, I don't think she appreciated me being snippy there. And it wasn't fair for me to be like that, either. But we've been waiting in my room for what must be hours now, I'm suited up in my custom armour…and we're all beginning to become a little impatient. I get the distinct feeling my sickness is coming back, and it's already moving into the late afternoon. Maybe, through some freak knock-on effect of my actions, they won't attack…man, I'm not sure if that'd be good or bad. Great, now I've got myself even more worked up about it. Fanfuckingtastic.
"Sorry," I say quickly, and the turian gives me a quick nod of acceptance. He's already been to say goodbye to Shepard as best he can, but the longer he has to wait, the harder this is going to be for him. Harder it is for all of us. God, I hate waiting for anything, and I know the moment any of us let our guard down is the moment they'll strike. "I don't like this either, but all we can do is just wait. It can't be long now."
"Great," the turian mutters, folding his arms again and leaning against the wall. "Because the anticipation is really killing me over here."
"We all want this over and done with," Tali says calmly, trying to lower the tension a few notches. Good effort on her part…but I think we're all going to need a bit more than relaxed words. Still, beats sitting around not talking at all. "It's what comes after that concerns me. I was thinking about it today, and…well, the media is going to be in a frenzy about this. And we're going to be in the middle of it."
Shit, that's not something I've really considered. The Council and press do go to pretty good lengths to discredit Shepard after she dies, actually, and now the whole Garrus and Shepard thing is public…fuck, he's gonna get absolutely hounded by them. Hell, we all are, but Garrus is probably going to get this the worst. This is so bloody unfair on him. Kinda why I was going to hold off on telling him the truth about me…but he worked it out for himself. This is best in the long run, anyway. Besides, I can back him up with the media.
"Well, we've dealt with worse than journalists, right?" I ask rhetorically, trying to laugh light-heartedly and just sounding like I'm having a coughing fit.
"I'd rather face down a geth armature, to be honest," the turian says, trying to smile a little bit. "At least I can shoot one of them. And you're not going to be able to punch every journalist we come across this time, Ian."
I laugh a little bit, properly this time, thinking back to Al-Jilani. Hitting her, then managing to stick a fine on her…God, that was such a dick thing to do, but she totally deserved it. "Well, if she's ever stupid enough to try a one on one interview again, I'll push my luck twice. But we can't worry about the media. If they push us about Shepard, push us into having to justify anything we did, then we push back twice as hard."
"Or you could just be sick on them," Garrus grins.
I sigh slightly. Man, just mentioning the word 'sick' is making me feel queasy again… "It's not a permanent thing, Garrus. I plan on getting better, you know."
He just shrugs. "Turians don't really get ill as often as your species does."
"Says the guy who had a cold after Noveria because he didn't wear warm enough clothes."
Tali suddenly starts laughing at that, and a genuine grin comes onto my face. Ah, I love back and forth with him… "It's true, Garrus. We all know you tried to hide it, but you sounded like someone was covering up your nose or something that day."
"Don't remind me about that," the turian chuckles, shaking his head. "We might not get ill as often, then, but it probably feels worse when we do because of that. Couldn't breath through my nostrils for days…plus I had to put up with Shepard saying 'I told you so' for a week after that." He suddenly sighs, and the smile kind of dies on his face. "She always does little things like that, teases me because she knows I get annoyed easily…"
Yep, he's back to being sad. And just like that, the reality of the situation comes crashing down on the room again. We're waiting for our home to get blown up, our Commander and, in Garrus's case, lover, to go along with it. If we try and do anything about it, we'll probably end up screwing the whole galaxy over in the process.
Well, this is fucking depressing.
"You know, I think that chicken might not have been the whole story here," I say, desperately searching for something to keep the conversation going, even if it's just between Tali and I. Talking about sickness is making my tummy rumble, in a bad way, but I can't bear just sitting there and looking at Garrus being miserable, being able to do shit-all about it. Just gotta try keeping our minds off it… "I had a bad vision beforehand."
"I noticed that," Tali nods. "You started grunting, shifting about a lot…then you got up all wide-eyed, said 'fuck', then ran to the bathroom." It always sounds so funny to hear Tali swear…but I put it to one side.
"I think the vision might have had something to do with it, though," I shrug. "Can't pin it on anything particular, since the content hasn't changed or anything, but…I dunno. I just have a feeling about it."
Garrus looks over at me, brow plates furrowed slightly, mandibles widened. "It's never made you sick before, though. Why would that st-"
The whole cabin lurches to one side and throws me out of bed, slamming into the floor hard on my forearms, while Garrus and Tali stagger from their positions. As I heave myself up, arms burning slightly from the friction, my sickness addled brain doesn't take long to realise what's happening.
They're here. As sudden as they were in game…one second, we're fine, next the whole world is shifting around me.
"Keelah..." I faintly hear Tali say, above the din of explosions and warning claxons, as the light in the room goes out, and is quickly replaced by a lightly flashing red one. I mean, the game made it look bad...but we're pitching wildly about, all of us struggling to stand as Joker banks us around, and the Collector laser tears mercilessly into the ship. For some reason, I it was going to be as simple as just running to an escape pod. Fuck, I didn't think this through!
"Move! Everyone, out!" Garrus bellows, and my survival instinct begins to kick in as the ship rocks violently again. Tali rushes out first, Garrus standing in the doorway as I make my way towards him, heartbeat racing as I literally hear the blood pumping around. Just like that…the SR-1 is being ripped apart. After all the waiting, the slight belief that maybe it just wouldn't happen, the Collectors have arrived. And we need to act.
"Ian!" The turian's shout rips my attention back to the doorway, as I make my way towards it, feeling my stomach heave slightly from all the ship's shaking and lurching. Shit, not now… "Come on! Can you move by yourself?"
"I'm fine!" I shout back, signalling furiously with my hand for him to press on. "Get outta here, Garrus, it's too dangerous!" The turian looks unsure for a second, as we make eye contact…then he gives a slight nod, and bolts into the corridor. I stagger out a few seconds later…and fuck me, what a sight it is.
Fire. Casting a flickering orange light all across the corridors, a smoke haze beginning to settle in the higher portion of the air, the smell of melting plastic making me gag slightly. I push forward as quick as I can, with all the sensations and sickness weighing down on me, hearing the screams of the servicemen and women as they dash towards the pods, a horrible screeching sound presumably from a Collector laser shearing part of the ship off…
There's a sudden shift in the ground, and a crewman barges into me on his way past, sending me falling towards the ground again before I can stop myself. Shit! I try sticking an arm out, but my forehead collides first with a solid smack…and then it flares up again.
The vision. Turning everything completely orange, fire still dancing in my view as the Reapers destroy everything in their path, the screams of destruction, Shepard's silhouette falling on the battle field, laser lighting up the sky…
A real laser. Bright orange, tearing through the ship, as I see it through an observation window. And just like that, I'm wrenched back into reality…and feel my stomach rising from the shift. Oh, no…
I try and clamber back onto my feet, but that just makes the whole thing worse, as I double up and retch, despite nothing coming out, pain making it impossible to move. I try and look down the corridor, but the thick smoke makes it impossible to see the escape pods, and the burning plastic is mixing with what I think is burning flesh. Not my own, but it can't be too far off…
I grit my teeth and start crawling forward, with literally nothing more to be thrown up, raising myself up to my knees as the Normandy bucks wildly once again, laser getting ever closer. I am not gonna die here! No damn way…
"Tali…" I can only croak slightly, as I start staggering forward, "Garrus…help…" I dunno how much further away they are. Shit, what if they've already launched? They won't have, no w-
"IAN!" a flanging voice yells, as the glow of a familiar blue visor draws closer, and Garrus bursts through the smoke and looks at me in disbelief. "What the hell are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" I manage to force out through my burning throat, trying to steady my heaving chest as much as I can. So much for an easy fucking escape...
Garrus just shakes his head, then grunts and picks me up, charging back down towards the pods. I've still got stomach cramps and light-headedness from throwing up, but my senses are coming back as Garrus finally hurls me into the pod and follows in afterwards. He saved my life…again. That's another one I owe him.
"Do you think there's any more crew left?" I can hear Tali shout to him, her voice muffled slightly but the noises of destruction, alarm still blaring through the air.
Garrus shakes his head. "I didn't see any! Besides, if we don't go now, we're dead! Hold on!" Before anyone else can do anything, he presses a talon onto the control panel…and we shoot out into the vast expanse of space, force of being propelled pushing me back into my seat until our velocity gradually starts slowing, and I slowly start to calm my breathing back down. Still alive…just. That was way, way too close. I feel like retching again from the ejection, the stress, the shock of actually living through all that...but close my eyes for a moment and take controlled, deep breaths. Not like I've got anything left to throw up, anyway.
"Are you aright?" Tali asks hurriedly, looking over at me. To be honest, I feel terrible, splitting headache, ears ringing from the noise, stomach cramps…but she doesn't need to know that.
"I'll be fine," I lie, craning my head around a looking out of the window…and seeing the true scale of destruction. The Normandy is barely hanging together, previously pristine white paint charred and broken up, lasers ravaging what little remains in its original state. Everything we've been through together…gone. Pressly, all the crew members who couldn't get out, Shepard…the Normandy itself. The ship that defeated Sovereign, just torn apart in front of our eyes. And there's nothing we can do to stop it.
Then, the laser shears straight through the middle of the ship, and with an enormous explosion it splits in two, both halves catapulted away from each other, making me wince slightly and reel back as the shockwave bumps the escape pod. Fucking hell…I actually feel like crying, as the previously majestic Normandy just splits. And then, floating away from it all…a tiny red and black coloured pinprick, barely visible, just floating towards the planet's surface
I look over my shoulder to see Garrus staring out of the window too, lonely tear running down his face. Fuck…it's all over. Mass Effect 1. In the space of five minutes, Shepard and the Normandy are gone.
"What do we do now?" Tali suddenly asks, voicing what we're all presumably thinking, as I turn back around to see her staring at me along with Garrus. I try to think of something to say, something reassuring…but come up blank.
And for the first time in a long, long while, I feel totally helpless.
"I don't know."
MASSES TO MASSES 3
A/N: Well, that sets us up rather nicely. Mass Effect 1's events are over…and the two year gap finally begins.
So, hoped you enjoyed that! MtM is back, finally! I realise a lot of that chapter was covering what happened in the months in-between the Battle of the Citadel and the point Ian's at now, but that was all obviously important stuff. And Ian wasn't just randomly sick there. There's a story behind all that…too bad we won't be touching on that for a long, long while, hahaha.
Next up, the aftermath. There's a funeral to attend, a life to restart on the Citadel, and a certain quarian might have to finally return to the Flotilla. Look forward to that!
Nice to be back. Reviews, as always, are appreciated, and I hope this has got everything off to a good start for everyone!
See you next chapter!
P.S: For all you Twitter users (yes, all five of you), I have a Twitter feed now, on iNf3ctioNZ_UK. And I started a prequel fic to Masses to Masses 1. Check my profile!