W/N - I don't know what kind of crazy roll I'm on or why. Must be the mania. :P This was floating in my head for a bit and the metaphysical weird ideas of death, dreams, religion, darkness, light and water sort of came to life. Quotes from Shakespeare and Tennyson. I'm already working on the next DA chapter with a battle scene between the forces of Loghain and the Warden. The next part of this will be an exploration of Shepard's family with a little bit of a nod to A Christmas Carol.
Other Malarkey - I did three straight days of P90X and I feel like I fell out of the Normandy and hit a planet.
What Dreams May Come
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
That thought indeed gave Claire Shepard pause. She wasn't sure how that line came to her or why, but she seemed to recall that it was Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1. Disjointed images coursed through her head and she could see herself as Ophelia in her high school play. As a spacer, there weren't a lot of other kids her age and Claire sometimes had to play several roles. Why was this memory coming to her now? The blurry pictures coalesced into a vivid scene in a forested field where a river ran along the tree line. Wearing a long flowing gown, she sat on a branch and played with a garland of flowers in her hair, singing crazy songs. It was as if she were losing her mind.
There's rue for you and here's some for me.
All was madness and death anyway. The image of fire and hell played through her mind for a second, but it was all a blur – running and then the cold darkness of space.
Hey non nony, nony hey nony.
Nothing made any sense in her brain except Ophelia sitting on the branch, mad with grief, singing nonsense. She looked down from the branch and saw only a void with distant planet far below. Where did the field go? The branch cracked and Claire felt her stomach rise into her throat. She was falling…falling fast.
They bore her barefaced on the bier,
And in her grave rained many a tear,
Fare you well, my dove!
She fell into the river of space and couldn't breathe, but soon, she didn't care. Ophelia had passed into the hands of God and he would have mercy for her soul. The void then became water again, flowing slowly along a field out to sea. From her watery grave she could see a Caparisoned horse pulling a casket, a pair of polished boots put facing rearward in the stirrups. Familiar faces wept as they trod behind lowered banners. A piper played his soldier home as the casket was lowered into the fields of France. A man stood over the open grave and tossed a rose in. She wanted to reach out to him, to stroke his cheek and tell him it was okay, but she could not feel her arms. She was about to say his name, but she could not remember it. An older couple knelt down and poured dirt into the hole. They were familiar too, but who were they?
The scene blurred into oblivion and Claire saw herself as Ophelia again, this time in a castle. She ran to the couple, now appearing in renaissance noble finery. Polonius and Gertrude? These roles are being played by Claire's…parents and their name is…Shepard. Snippets of memories came and went as if who she was had ceased to be. Was she mad? Was this what insanity was?
The castle faded and Claire floated above the cemetery and saw her parents touching a marble cross, one of countless thousands that spread across the landscape, mixed in with Stars of David, Crescents, and other symbols. She could see a picture and a name carved into the marble and she peered to get a closer view.
"No, it cannot be."
The inscription required a second reading. This was obviously some trick.
CLAIRE ANNE SHEPARD, COMMANDER, SYSTEMS ALLIANCE NAVY
APRIL 11, 2154 – JANUARY 10, 2184
AN ANGEL ON EARTH AND AN ANGEL IN HEAVEN
Claire sidled up to her parents but they couldn't seem to see or hear her. "No, mom, dad, I'm right here. What are you doing?" A single tear rolled down Captain Hannah Shepard's cheek, but her father was all stiff upper lip. Claire reached out and tried to grab her mother's hand, but there was no substance to the touch and she grasped nothing but empty space. "What? No, mom, look at me! Look at me, dammit."
She was about to reach out again when her entire being seemed to be enveloped in fire, searing her very soul. A scream of pain burst from her and it felt as if every bone in her body had shattered. A red haze slowly passed from her vision and her parents were gone, leaving only a freshly filled grave holding an empty casket. She looked rapidly from side to side, hoping to see her parents and the man who had held the rose, but there was no movement in the cemetery other than the flight of birds and the blowing of trees. For as far as the eye could see there was a garden of white stones arranged neatly in rows and columns as if a spectral army were marching into battle.
The last of the earlier agony died away and Claire realized that it was the first time that she had felt any physical sensation since she was falling and couldn't breathe. The grave…the cross…was she, like Ophelia, dead? But, she was still here. She had always expected to see a light. It was something she had grown up with and always believed. "There are no atheists in foxholes." Why was that phrase familiar? Who did she say that to? As if summoned, a blurry face floated just beyond vision, slowly coalescing into that of a dark-haired woman. "Ashley! Dear God, you're here too."
Ash was silent and only gestured to a white cross that stood next to Claire's.
ASHLEY MADELINE WILLIAMS, MASTER CHIEF (POST.), SYSTEMS ALLIANCE MARINE CORPS
APRIL 14, 2158 – DECEMBER 07, 2183
DREAMS ARE TRUE WHILE THEY LAST, AND DO WE NOT LIVE IN DREAMS?
Claire placed her spectral hand on Ash's cross and lowered her head. The memory of the sacrifice came flooding back. A command decision in a desperate moment, a mushroom cloud, a friend lost. "Dear God, Ash, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. If I could have saved you…," she said in a near whisper, her voice trailing off. She turned back to see Ashley smiling. The marine shook her head.
"It's okay, skipper. It's okay. I'm with them now. I'm with my folks. I forgive you." Ash turned away and seemed to look at something distant. "For in this sleep of death, what dreams may come-"
Claire finished the line. "-When we shuffle off this mortal coil, must give us pause."
Ashley took a step and then looked back, her form slowly fading. "I'm going home, skipper. You stick around a while more. It's not your time yet."
"I'll see you on the flip side."
And then, Ashley was gone.
Caparisoned Horse – riderless horse that is outfitted in livery for state or military funerals
POST. - postumous. In this case, promoted after death