Disclaimer: I don't own Mass Effect, Bioware and EA do.
A/N: Like virtually every Mass Effect fan, after finishing ME3 I was hit by sudden disappointment. It was like I'd been handed a perfect meal, with an incredible starter and main course and then suddenly at the very bottom of the splendid dessert I found a piece of dog shit. It wasn't a great moment.
So, like virtually every Mass Effect fan, I said 'Fuck this shit, I'm writing my own ending.' And here is the first part of it. This will be a multi-chapter fic with a fair bit of action in (because I hate superweapons on principle). I don't know how often I'll update because my computer has currently lost its lead, and I don't expect to get a replacement for several weeks by which time I'll be back at the grindstone of work.
Some necessary background about my Alice Shepard: She's Colonist Sole Survivor, mostly paragon with a huge saving people thing and a renegade streak (because that's the best sort of paragon). She romanced Liara, stayed true to her all the way through, and bromanced Garrus and Wrex, and more recently Vega. Ashley died on Virmire. Pretty much all her choices were paragon (Saved Maelon's data, saved the geth and the quarians, etc.) save her saving of Aralakh company over the Rachni and her choosing Morinth over Samara (because she got angry – she's got a horrible temper and often says things she regrets). Also she got the maximum possible War Assets before heading anywhere near Earth, and didn't lose anyone on the suicide mission. She likes 20th and 21st century music and movies.
Also thoughts are in italics.
Prologue: No Fate but what We Make for Ourselves
It took a while before things clicked.
The child – the Catalyst – had appeared to her, offered her three choices. Three impossible choices, choices that made her aching head burn just to consider them.
The Catalyst had told her that with the Crucible she could do what the Illusive Man had wanted, what he'd said – take control of the Reapers, make them do whatever she asked of them; she could tell them all to take a swim in the core of a star and they happily would. Of course, there was the obvious disadvantage of the destruction of the Mass Relays, which would at the very least set back galactic civilisation by several centuries, and at worst would destroy the systems the Relays were in – the image of the ring of devastation spreading across the galaxy map after the Alpha Relay's destruction spreading itself in her imagination across system after system, destroying everything that she'd worked to save. Not to mention the risks of merging with Reapers as a whole.
Then there was option two – synthesis, as the Catalyst called it. Merge all synthetic and organic life, create some sort of hybrid of the two based on her own construction. Again, this would involve her death, and again for some reason the destruction of the Mass Relays. In addition there was no saying what this new hybrid life would be like – and she knew that no-one would want this forced on them, no-one. It reeked too much in her mind of the modifications Cerberus had made to her, and while they had no doubt saved her life, she wouldn't wish them on the Reapers themselves.
The last seemed like the best when you looked at it straight away. Destroy the Reapers, destroy all of them forever and ever. Except it also killed all synthetic life-forms in general – EDI, the geth, it didn't matter. Legion's sacrifice would have been for nothing, her philosophical debates with EDI – all of it wasted. Especially as the Mass Relays would, once again, be detonated.
Her whole life Commander Shepard had made a career out of finding another option. She'd survived Akuze, taken down Saren, and gone through a suicide mission without a single casualty. She'd fixed age old enmities and made them alliances. There had to be another way. There had to be.
She ran through the options again. She was growing dizzy, and she knew that if she didn't choose soon she wouldn't be able to – her medi-gel had run dry long ago, and her armour was scorched and melted onto her. Blood ran down her face. The pain had stopped being sharp, but it lurked in the back of her mind, a dull throb ready to rise and overwhelm her.
Surely it's simple. Surely the only way to honour the sacrifices of so many dead is to ensure the Reapers' deaths. This is what they fought for. Do it!
But, murmured another thought, but you'll end one genocide with another. The geth aren't just robots any more, and EDI, EDI who trusts you, who reminds you so much of a sister, and Joker, who's stood by you through everything. Oh how you'll be repaying them. Not to mention anyone with any form of cybernetic enhancement. And we haven't even approached the devastation caused by the destruction of the Mass Relays.
But the galaxy will be free. Maybe the whole universe. The Reapers will be gone, and surely after all that we've built it won't be too challenging to build a Mass Relay. The good of the many – but then again you've never thought about that. Let's face it Shepard, you're selfish. So selfish. You'll choose those who you know personally – it's why you saved Aralakh Company, why you cured the genophage, why when you got the information about the Shadow Broker you went running to Liara instantly, not waiting to give the ship its vital repairs. You just can't face dying again, being separated from her again. Do the right thing for once the voice hissed at her, save everyone who's died.
She almost staggered towards the console. Almost. I...I can't do it. I can't wipe out all synthetic life.
Synthetic life...her head was echoing. A solution seemed so close, so very close. If she could just rest...just rest for a little while. Make tremendous sacrifices...I can't, Liara. Goddamn me, I can't do it. Goddamn me but I want to, I want to go to that place with you, so far away no-one could find us, I want the little blue children. I swore I'd always come back to you. I can't end all synthetic life.
And suddenly, so suddenly it hurt, her brain swung into gear and she had a plan, a real solid plan.
'No fate,' she gasped. The words slipped from her mouth involuntarily.
'What?' The child shape of the Catalyst flickered in front of her.
She grinned, the taste of blood sharp in her mouth. 'No fate but what we make for ourselves.'
With an effort of will she forced herself to stand up straight, bones aching, body afire with pain. 'It's an old quote from an old movie, but that's not the point. The point is that things always seem set in stone, but with enough willpower, with enough tenacity, you can change them.' For half a moment she forgot what she was trying to say as another wave of pain swept over her. Then she remembered.
'So. Here's my choice: fuck you. Fuck your fucking mindgames, fuck your stupid ideas. I don't care what you were made for, what you made the Reapers for, or whatever pansy-ass choices you were programmed to offer me.' The words were spilling through her now, all the rage that she had kept under control as she saw a million burning worlds was released from the dam that had held it back.
'We'll fight the Reapers ourselves, on our own terms. I don't care if we end up like the Protheans, fighting to the last man, because that'll be our fate, from start to finish, ours. So fuck you. I'm Commander Shepard, and I make my own destiny.'
Her hand shot to her communicator. 'Admiral Hackett, do you read me? This is Commander Shepard. The Crucible is a trap, I repeat, the Crucible is a trap. I require immediate evac from this position – the Citadel's a fucking Reaper. Admiral Anderson is seriously wounded.'
The communicator hissed '...Shepa...ker...n our way...Hold...' The words whined away into static as the child-shape in front of her frowned.
'We had hoped that you would have had the mental strength required to make this choice. This is the way things must be, Shepard. You know this.' For a moment the child seemed to grow huge. Its voice echoed and distorted, layered and familiar – this was the voice she had heard from Harbinger, from Sovereign. From the Reaper dying on Rannoch. It echoed in her head, deep and low and menacing in its rumbling.
'We will find another.' Then the Catalyst disappeared.
Shepard sank to the ground once more, then hauled herself up again. Anderson lay unconscious nearby and with effort she staggered towards him. Bent down.
Come on Shepard. The voice in her head was softer now, no longer so insidious. You can do this.
She wrapped her arms around Anderson and with a grunt and heave lifted him across her shoulders. Almost instinctively her biotics flared up to prevent her knees from collapsing under the weight.
Then the ground beneath her shook and she almost collapsed again, knee thunking into the hard metal floor, spots dancing across her vision. Familiar blackness moved across her eyes.
No! I won't give in. No fate...
She struggled up – but what we make for ourselves.
Flight Lieutenant Jeffrey Moreau had thought the worst day of his life had been over Alchera.
He was quickly revising his opinion.
'How the hell is that thing still on my tail?' he shouted, looking over his shoulder, half expecting to find the Reaper that had been pursuing him for the past half hour in the cockpit, blaring in his ears. 'I mean, not that I'm not flattered.' For what seemed like the millionth time he flung the Normandy into a spin as red fire lanced towards it, moving aside without losing any momentum. 'But there's only so much I can do at once.' His hands flew across the haptic interface, lining up the next set of manoeuvres. Even through the artificial gravity he felt the Normandy flip up like a roller coaster, turning back to face its pursuer. Almost...and now! His hand hammered on the fire control and twin streams of blue punched from the Normandy's nose and deep into the Reaper's heavily weakened shields. For a moment they were held back, then the accelerated ceramic punched through like a needle and smashed into the hard black shell of the Reaper. With a whoop Joker flipped the Normandy back into its previous path but not before firing a pair of Javelin Missiles that tore into the hole the Thanix Cannon had made, ripping the Reaper apart.
'That's what, seven Reapers I've killed now? Does the Normandy have some sort of badge on it saying "Hey, Reapers, this is Commander Shepard's ship – please shoot" – oh shit.' The Normandy danced out of the way of an exploding turian cruiser. 'How's the communications' blackout EDI?'
'I am currently tasked to capacity preventing electronic intrusions into the Normandy's computers. However, what communications I've intercepted and managed to decode indicate that while Hammer suffered over fifty percent casualties, all squad members on the Normandy's ground team – or who have been on the Normandy's ground team in the past – have survived, though some are critically injured.'
'There is still no word of Commander Shepard, or Admiral Anderson, though the opening of the Citadel's arms and a fragment of communication I have intercepted from Admiral Hackett indicate that at least one of them is alive.'
Joker spared a second to glance across at EDI. To anyone else she would have sounded exactly the same as ever, but her normally dulcet, gentle and sexy voice – goddamn it Flight Lieutenant, focus – was tinged with a hint of worry. And if he was honest with himself, he was pretty concerned too – it had been several minutes since the Crucible had aligned itself with the Citadel, and still nothing had happened.
'How are the fleets holding up then?' He flicked his fingers and a squadron of Oculi vanished in a flash of blue.
'The fleets have suffered overall casualties of eleven point two four percent casualties by my last set of calculations. Further breakdown is – ' She stopped suddenly. 'Incoming communication. The signal indicates it is from Commander Shepard.'
Suddenly there was a hiss over the communications channel. 'Admira...read me? This...Comm...epard. The Crucible is a trap, I rep...is a trap. I req...immediate evac...adel's a fucking Reap...derson's seriously wounded.' Broken up and distorted, it was still clearly Shepard, defying the odds once again and surviving the impossible. Joker couldn't have kept the smile off his face if he'd tried. Until he actually thought about her words, but that could wait.
'Commander Shepard, this is Joker. We're on our way to pull you out of the fire once again. Hold tight. Normandy out.' He closed the channel the pumped the fist and let out a little whoop. The Commander's alright...then he frowned. 'Hey EDI, what was that about the Crucible being a trap?'
She turned her head to him. 'I am not certain Jeff. The communication was distorted by the signal jammers the Reapers are using, but –'
Suddenly the Normandy shook, and as Joker peered at his displays he noticed something. As obviously had every other ship on the battlefield.
'The Citadel...Christmas tree!'
'...goddamn Mass Relay...'
Joker's eyes suddenly widened. Then the first Reaper disappeared near the Citadel with a whoosh of light.
'They're bugging out. The Reapers are bugging out!'
More and more Reapers were pulling away from combat towards the Citadel, disappearing in pulses of blue light. But as they did so they left themselves open, and gathering itself together the greatest fleet that this cycle had seen pounced on them.
Geth cruisers spat millions of tiny fragments of metal a second, so many it seemed like a constant stream, that wore down the shields of the huge mechanical monsters. Turian frigates launched missile after missile, knocking down weaker shields and destroying unshielded Reapers in huge barrages, while Asari dreadnoughts provided a covering fire of sorts, smashing the Reapers and stunning them as much as possible. Human fighters pounded Oculi, preventing them from taking on the larger ships, while larger ships stood toe to toe with the smaller Reapers that had been dubbed 'Nymphs' by the ground forces.
In minutes, the number of Reapers destroyed over Earth doubled. Their designs left them unable to fire and retreat, and while they tried to cover each other the overwhelming command from their master left them uneasy and prone to simply obey, backing towards the Citadel. This was how Harbinger met his fate, racing towards safety, when he was intercepted by a wave of superheated and accelerated ceramic focused at a single point. He'd already suffered overwhelming fire, but this was the end. As it accelerated towards him he found a channel from the ship had been opened and heard an organic on the other end ask him whether he knew that the attack hurt him. Harbinger had enough time in the seconds it took for the ceramic to burn through his outer shell and into his drive core to attempt to hack back through the channel, fail three times and then begin a reply before he detonated in a flash of light.
'Make that eight Reapers EDI, including the big guy.' Joker's smile grew wider as he pushed the Normandy to its maximum speed as it shot towards the Citadel, dodging around one black and red shape after another. I'm not going to let the commander die on my watch again. Never again.
Shepard took another shaking step as the Citadel once again rumbled beneath her. At first she'd been able to see through the windows as she headed down towards an extraction point – but then she'd reached darkened corridors, and then she'd stopped caring as all that mattered had become keeping one foot in front of the other, keeping Anderson on her back.
She didn't know when she'd stopped using muscles to hold him up and started just using biotics, or when the blood that had merely been trickling from her nose had become a full on flood. She couldn't say how she'd managed to break her leg – or whether in fact it had been broken before, and she'd only just noticed because of the yellow white bone peeking out of her armour.
Just keep going. Liara'll be waiting for me. She tried to suppress the part of her brain that told her that Liara had been standing awfully close to her when Harbinger's beam hit. And then...then we'll go somewhere away from here, far away...somewhere cool and green. With mountains. And water. Somewhere no-one can find us, where there's no war – wait, with some ruins. Liara loves –
The metal floor beneath her pulsed once more and she found herself collapsing to one knee. Get up, she screamed at it internally, get up, you lazy piece of shit. Her thoughts had somehow become her drill-sergeant's voice on the third day of basic. Do you want what happened to your parents to happen to others? Oh you do, because I don't see you moving. Up! She staggered upright once again. The pain was immense, but that appeared to be a permanent state of things now. A little more didn't hurt.
The floor shook again and she collapsed again. What is this, battlemaster, defeated by a station? A soft one too – never liked the Citadel. Grunt's voice growled in her head. We defeated a Thresher Maw, on foot, and fought the damned Rachni. You can stand up, can't you?
Staggering, she clawed upright again. And promptly collapsed as the floor shook even more. It was a steady dull vibration now, like the engine of a ship. This is ridiculous, Alice, purred her thoughts. Turians might not know how to duck, but we definitely know how to stand. Come on, Shepard, you can do it. It's just a corridor. It doesn't even shoot lasers, or rockets. You can outshoot me, you can definitely make it down here.
She didn't even try to stand this time. She simply dragged herself, slowly and carefully along the floor, keeping Anderson on her. There was a strange rushing in her ears and a pulsing in her thoughts, something just out of reach, a high whining note in her head, whispers plucking at her mind.
I've never known anyone stronger than you Shepard. The voice was soft, and for a moment all was calm. For a moment, Shepard could swear she saw blue skin, brilliant blue eyes.
I'm coming Liara. After all this time I'm coming home to you.
Slowly she stood. One leg first, knee bent, then as it began to straighten the next. The doors of perception suddenly seemed to have opened around her, and she could see the Normandy, beautiful and shining and coming towards her over hundreds of miles to bring her home. But she could also see the last of the Reapers vanishing into the distance as it was swept up in the Mass Relay field, see the build up of energy around the Citadel.
After her rebirth, Cerberus had gifted her with biotics. At first she hadn't a clue how to use them – but more than a year of sitting around on Earth had given her plenty of practice. And in particular she had mastered one technique she had seen a traitorous spectre named Tela Vasir use.
With an effort, Shepard turned herself and Anderson into pure biotic energy and charged through the corridors towards the Normandy.
She rematerialised and ran straight into a wall, a gasp bursting out of her throat as the pain she had thought couldn't get worse swelled around her head. With a grunt, she threw herself into another charge.
This time as she came out she felt her ears burst under the pressure of the blood that had been stuck behind them, and collapsed to the ground, silence echoing around her.
She couldn't do it. Shepard was finally beaten.
The floor shook mightily suddenly, and she knew that this was it, that the Citadel was now about to do what no other Mass Relay could – transit itself, through itself. And she would be sucked along for the ride.
And yet through the earthquake, the wind and the fire, a small voice spoke into her. Use me.
Time slowed. Her heartbeat seemed impossibly loud, the air charged with lightning. For some reason she found a smile split her face. Biotic energy gathered around her, building up to levels that she'd never even seen before, and still it grew, gathering behind her and round her, boxing her in and caressing and healing her. The floor split beneath her, crumpling and blackening. The walls warped towards her as the glow around her increased more.
Then with one final push she was gone, speeding away across the miles like they didn't exist and down, down to the Normandy, Anderson across her back.
She rematerialised inside the cockpit behind Joker. He spun to face her, face wide in surprise and alarm.
'Anderson needs immediate medical attention,' she somehow managed to say through the blood. 'I need transport down to –'
Then the Normandy shook as a brilliant blue light dazzled her from outside its windows and she fell sideways, whatever had sustained her suddenly disappearing as quickly as it had come and then she was deep into the blissful blackness of unconsciousness.