After everything we did, the Collector ship was still disappearing, taking off and flying up into space, no matter how many times the defense turrets shot at it.
I cursed to myself. It may have been better then any previous result, but the Illusive Man expected the best. He put me on it, after all. Made for perfection, grew to expect it.
To my left, I saw Shepard's face grimace into a mask of disappointment. I didn't blame him: Our mission was to stop the Collectors, and we hadn't. We'd dealt them a blow, thanks to Mordin's countermeasures and the Illusive Man's intelligence, and we'd engaged them, knew their potential in a direct fight. Came out on top, no less. But our mission wasn't complete: There could still be another Horizon, or Freedom's Progress.
"No!" It wasn't Shepard who called out at the retreating Collector ship. It was the voice of that cowardly shipping worker who locked himself right after when we first saw that odd Collector general. He ran in front of us, shaking his fist at the ship, calling out names of people I imagined were colonists loaded on board.
"How can you let them get away?" The man wheeled around and turned towards Shepard.
"I'm sorry." Came Shepard's response. He always took everything on himself. The consummate diplomat, always the peacemaker. Admirable, but naïve: The Reapers didn't show a shred of mercy. But sometimes, it did get results, like it did with the quarian on Freedom's Progress.
"Shepard, we did the best we could." Garrus Vakarian consoled as he put his sniper rifle away. That he was the mercenary Archangel in the Illusive Man's dossier was a complete coincidence, but it ended up being more helpful than I could imagine: Their shared history put Shepard more at ease, and the two were a fierce pair together. The pair of them were better then an entire asari commando unit.
"Wait, Shepard?" The shipping worker turned around. He hadn't heard of him?
"That's right, that's Commander Shepard." From behind some of the landing pad's storage crates came a voice, and then movement. I was ready to unleash my biotics, but the man that came out from the movement was not armed.
Tall, black hair. I hadn't met him personally, but I knew who he was: Staff Commander Kaidan Alenko, with the Alliance. The Illusive Man had mentioned in his report that he was here on Horizon. An outreach program was the official story, but I was certain it wasn't. More then likely, the Illusive Man fed the Alliance information about Shepard.
"John Shepard. The first human Spectre. Savior of the Citadel, and champion of the Alliance. A living legend, Delan, or a legend, at least." The dock worker, Delan, muttered some dismissive comment and stormed away from us.
Kaidan strode towards Shepard, not missing a step. Once they were close enough, he extended his hand for a handshake.
"Shepard. It's good to see you again." His face beamed as the two men shook hands. Even I thought the whole thing was a little cute.
"It's good to see you, Kaidan, you look well." Shepard was overjoyed, the enthusiasm in his voice was one I thought reserved for children.
"What happened, Shepard? After the Normandy was destroyed...we thought you were dead. All of us did." Kaidan's tone changed from his level, but friendly, to one with more hesitation and worry. I could already sense this not going well.
"Shepard, we..." I was moving to end this conversation, but neither of the two men seemed to hear me.
"Two years, Shepard. Two years I thought you were dead. Why didn't you try to contact me? Or Anderson? Or...anyone?" Pleas, not accusations. Worry, not anger.
"I didn't have an opportunity, Kaidan, I was barely conscious for most of it while Cerberus brought me back." The second Shepard said the name "Cerberus", I saw all the color drain from Commander Alenko's face. Figured. Every time an Alliance marine heard "Cerberus" they thought terrorism, racism, a real slew of awful things. As if those like Saren were paradigms of racial and moral virtue. They didn't bother to try and understand the real complexities of the world, how the other races could turn at any time, just as the Council did when Saren was accused the first time. Sometimes, the future of an entire people depended on sacrifices, and doing the things that may not seem right at the first thought. Sometimes, the path forward was one through the mud.
"So...the rumors were true." He took a few steps back, away from Shepard. "You're with Cerberus now."
"Shepard, you saw what Cerberus did was doing with those rachni, and those Thorian Creepers. Admiral Kahoku, and your unit, on Akuze, the thresher maws! How can you work with for them?" His brow furrowed. Indecision? Surprise? Probably both of them.
"You've seen what's been going on, Kaidan. Freedom's Progress, Ferris Fields, New Canton. All of them are being hit and harvested by the Collectors! Hundreds of thousands of people gone! Cerberus is the only one trying to save them! The real threat is the Reapers, not them."
"And where are the Reapers? I've seen those Collectors, you call them, and they're nothing like Sovereign, or the geth, or anything. What if Cerberus is playing you?"
"Kaidan, you're reaching. The Collectors attacked us as much as they attacked you. Cerberus didn't cause this problem." Garrus supported Shepard, who didn't answer right away.
When the turian is saying Cerberus isn't wrong, that should give you thinking points.
"What happened to you, John?" Kaidan's teeth gritted together, and he avoided looking the man in the face anymore.
"I haven't changed, Kaidan."
Kaidan let out a slight exhale, and he looked down at the ground. "I don't believe you."
"It doesn't have to be this way, Kaidan. I'm on a mission to help humanity across the galaxy, and I could really use you here." Shepard's tone took a more pleading tone, and I knew I'd have to diffuse it. He was an extremely talented biotic and squad leader, that was for certain, but he was too willful: He couldn't be bought, bribed, or signed on for the thrill of the challenge: He'd jeopardize the mission.
"I'm too Alliance to work with terrorists. I've got to get back to them, now." Kaidan, fortunately, dismissed it handily enough. I had no desire to convince him otherwise. Kaidan turned his back on Shepard, and began to walk away.
"Take care, Shepard." Using his informal last name, Kaidan spoke one last sentence before disappearing.
"Kaidan!" Shepard called once again, but nothing. We were alone on Horizon's spaceport. The Collector ship had gone. It was just the three of us. Shepard's shoulders slumped while Garrus put a supportive hand on his shoulder.
I started to file a report with EDI: There were plenty of tasks to complete now: Gaining samples that could be useful for Mordin, operatives to monitor the colonists to anticipate any future complications due to the swarms. We may not have defeated the Collectors now, but the mission was not a failure, we could still stop them with the right tools.
I turned back to look at Shepard, who had turned back around to face me.
"Miranda, I think we've done all we can here. We should get back to the Normandy." His tone was level, he sounded like the same Shepard he always was. But I could see the slight bend in the corner of his mouth, and how his eyes didn't lock directly with mine, but just slightly downward. Disappointment: I'd seen that enough to recognize it. About Horizon, or Kaidan?
"Understood. Commander." I'd mention the meeting in my report. The Illusive Man had to be the one to tell Shepard to put Kaidan out of his mind. I was under Shepard's command, after all. But I would bring it up with Yeoman Chambers while Shepard was in his mission briefing. Helping with the psychology of the crew was one of the reasons she was here. Let her remind Shepard that Commander Alenko was safe from Collectors, and he'd be safe until after the mission was over. If it still mattered, it could have been done after the mission was over.
I finished cataloging with EDI as the Kodiak came down, and Kaidan Alenko was just a blip in my memory. Hopefully, soon he'd be the same for Shepard.