Razor's Edge: Requiem
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Gladly did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me;
"Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."
- Robert Louis Stevenson
"Commander Johnathan Shepard, you are hereby stripped of all rank in the Systems Alliance Navy and issued a discharge of 'Other Than Honorable'. You will be restricted to indefinite detention at this facility while we assess the claims put forward regarding the incidents in the Bahak system, as well as your involvement with the terrorist organization known as Cerberus."
He bowed his head, a deep sigh echoing in his chest followed by a derisive laugh at the absurdity of it all. For all that he had done, all that he had accomplished even he couldn't seem to change the monolithic inevitability of the political machine.
The Admiral sitting in the middle of the tribunal frowned, fingers steepled in front of him. "Are you amused by these proceedings, Shepard? It is only due to Admiral Anderson's urgings and your previous history as humanity's first spectre that we have reached such a lenient judgement. Any other soldier that stood before us on similar charges would have been extradited to the Hegemony for execution."
Shepard looked up, unfazed by the implied threat. "The thought that when all is said and done that our enemy's greatest weapon isn't weapons or armor but our own politics and self-interest can't help but bring me some amusement, Admiral."
"We have experts reviewing the data you provided to the Council after your trip through the Omega 4 relay. If there is an imminent threat it will be dealt with accordingly," the second Admiral added. A woman, probably a few years younger than his mother with fading red hair. The words tumbled so easily from her lips, speaking of years of politics and prepared statements. "This doesn't change the fact that over a quarter of a million Batarian citizens were killed, a direct result of your actions during the course of your mission for Admiral Hackett."
The third member of the tribunal nodded. "Or the other, equally disturbing things in these reports. The destruction of an entire prison ship? A full on assault of a private estate on Bekenstein? Your tenuous spectre status technically overrides any criminal charges we could level against you for these actions but it does not change the impression they give."
The stare he fixed them with could have frozen water from across the room.
"I am fully aware of the consequences of my actions, Admiral. I always have been. So please, continue. Placate and politic. Go home at night and be with your husband or your wife, pretend the world will never change. Enjoy it, appreciate it. Hold onto every moment and burn it into your memory. Because I promise you that it will change. Someday soon memories might be all we have."
None of the tribunal responded, instead simply motioning for the guards to escort him out. For the first time since joining the military over a decade ago he didn't snap a crisp salute to his superior officers. He wasn't Commander Shepard anymore. He was just a man with too many memories that he'd rather forget and a small handful that kept him putting one foot in front of the other.
Two months later...
He sat at the table, staring at a blinking cursor, willing himself to think of some other shred of information or evidence that could help. Convince someone of the danger. Shepard's hand rubbed at his jaw, thick with stubble. He wasn't technically an Alliance soldier anymore so damn the regulations about personal appearance. For all intents and purposes he was persona non-grata, he wasn't in prison, he wasn't free, he just... was. And there was nothing he could do about it.
That wasn't entirely true, he admitted to himself. He could escape. The fact of the matter was there wasn't a great deal they could do to stop him. One covert drop to the Illusive Man would likely have him out without so much as a form signed, but that was a deal with the devil he wasn't willing to make. A more conventional escape was also feasible. Confidence rather than arrogance told him that the pair of guards outside his 'accommodations' wouldn't be much of a challenge and the Alliance had spent a great deal of money training him for just this sort of situation. But one way or the other someone would get hurt, probably killed. A good soldier, just doing their job. That was one more life he didn't want to add to the ever growing list of names in the back of his mind.
A light rap at his door caused Shepard to look up. Without waiting for a reply it slid open with that faint hiss that was so familiar. A young woman with gold lieutenant bars stepped inside past the two MPs with a datapad in hand.
"Ah Com- I mean, Mr. Shepard?"
"Unless they have someone else under guard here, that would be me," he replied tiredly. "What can I do for you?"
She blushed. Definitely a newly minted officer, young and impressionable. "Of course. I was recently assigned here and I heard that you were... staying on site. I just needed to say thank you."
Shepard arched an eyebrow. "For what, Lieutenant?"
"My uncle and all my cousins live on Horizon. They were there when the Collectors attacked. My uncle didn't make it but... the only reason my cousins and aunt aren't gone too is because you showed up and stopped them," she explained. "So thank you."
"I don't know what to say. You're welcome seems arrogant. I just wish I'd arrived sooner, maybe your uncle would still be with us."
She smiled and sat the datapad down on the edge of his desk. "You did more than anyone else. So thank you again. It was an honor to meet you, sir."
With that she turned on her heel and hit the door control, stepping through as soon as they opened. The former soldier noticed the datapad sitting on the edge of his desk and stood to call her back but when she glanced over her shoulder and met his eyes he stopped. The door closed with a quiet thump without a word spoken. Sitting back down he picked up the device and tapped the screen.
The pad sprung to life, showing a rather pedestrian looking extranet mail account. He was going to call the Lieutenant back and chalk the incident up to his wild imagination and having nothing to do for two months when he noticed the top email was flashing 'new' and read 'Urz says hello!'. He opened the message and the face of large, happy varren appeared on the screen staring right at whatever camera had been used to take the image. After a moment a dialogue box opened at the bottom of the screen and a single question appeared: What color are Ms. vas Normandy's eyes?
He couldn't suppress a small smirk as he keyed in the answer. The dialogue box vanished and after a momentary delay a message appeared in its place.
From: Your Friend, LT
Hello, John. I can only hope you're doing well. Despite my many contacts the Alliance has impressively tight security where you're being held. I couldn't leave you cut off completely, though. You always came back for us, never hesitated to risk everything. So I can take a small risk to get you a message to remind you that you're not alone.
There is talk of the evidence you provided on dozens of channels, but I've seen little real movement. Those of us that know what's coming have been doing what we can despite that fact. You might be interested to learn that 'someone' has sold thanix cannon technology to the quarians and the volus, while another anonymous source provided cyclonic shield technology to the turians and salarians. Leveling the playing field... and providing a substantial amount of credits to help the right causes.
I know you want to know about everyone, but even my resources aren't limitless. Garrus went back to Palaven, I know, and Grunt went to join Wrex on Tuchanka. I've heard rumors that Zaeed is causing all sorts of trouble in the Terminus systems, but not his usual kind. Tali... Tali returned to the Migrant Fleet. She was still angry the last time we spoke, I wish there had been more time. I know she understands what you did in her heart, possibly more than anyone, but... I'm just telling you things you already know. We'll do everything we can. Even if everyone ignores us, we won't stop trying. We have hope. You gave us that. Now let us keep it alive for you.
Stay safe, John.
PS: Don't worry about the datapad. It will erase itself after you close this message.
Shepard exited the message and sat the pad on the desk, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his eyes. It was something at least, something to keep him going. His friends were still out there, continuing the fight that he couldn't while stuck in this damn room. Every day he worried that something would go wrong. Together he knew they could accomplish almost anything... but now they were scattered across the galaxy.
Shepard stood and walked over to the small window that looked out over the city, a forest of glass and steel stretching for miles. He knew his people, knew they were all strong individuals. But he couldn't help but think back to their final gathering, glasses raised. Or the moments after. Garrus had been resigned but hadn't argued with him. There was an understanding between the two of them that was something that could only shared between old soldiers. Most the others had accepted his decision as well, even if both Grunt and Jack had questioned his sanity. Tali... Tali had made up for it with enough anger and disappointment for all of them. He closed his eyes against the memory, but it wasn't enough. It never was.
They stood in the airlock of the Normandy aboard the Citadel, an awkward silence hanging in the air. The gathering had long since ended, people going their separate ways after saying goodbye. Only a skeleton crew remained behind to return to Earth with him. Good people that had volunteered to turn themselves over to the Alliance as well. When she finally spoke her voice was incredulous.
"After all we've been through? You're going to go back and let them use your as some kind of... of sacrifice? To appease the Batarians of all people?"
"Tali, I killed thousands. Hundreds of thousands of people," he said quietly. "The Alliance will do everything it can to prevent war with the Batarians. I won't make everyone aboard the Normandy a fugitive just to outrun my fate. Spectre status... Reapers... none of that will change what happened out there."
"It wasn't your fault! You can't... you can't just-"
Shepard smiled sadly. "I did what I had to do, just like I always have. Just like I'm doing now... I can't tell you what will happen. I wish I could."
He reached out, trying to comfort her but she stiffened under his hands, pulling away. The veil that he had so often slipped his hands beneath in the last few weeks turned away, looking out at the traffic milling through the Citadel's docks for a long moment. Finally Tali spoke.
"You said you'd always come back to me..."
Before he could respond she was gone, striding out of the airlock and into the crowd, head held low, shoulders shaking. And all he could do was issue a silent curse at whatever gods or fates had pushed him down his current path. One day maybe she could forgive him if he ever had the fortune to see her face again.
A knock interrupted his thoughts once more, but this time the door didn't open immediately. Looking over his shoulder Shepard frowned.
The door slid open to reveal another Alliance Lieutenant, but one he was familiar with, an olive skinned soldier of impressive physique and a few tattoos he was sure Jack would have liked to have taken a look at. The younger man saluted.
A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Pretty sure you're not supposed to call me that anymore, Vega. Or salute me."
"Not supposed to do a lot of things, sir," Vega replied. "There's another meeting about the Collector base scheduled to happen in fifteen, they've requested your presence to answer some more questions. I've been ordered to escort you down."
"They're still afraid I'll run off, huh?" he asked.
"Can't say I would blame you, sir. After everything you've done you don't deserve this."
Shepard sighed and motioned forward the marine to proceed. "Everything I've done is how I ended up here, Vega. I just hope it was all worth it."
He glanced once more at the datapad before the door shut behind him. It had to be worth it.
Five months later...
Tali'Zorah vas Normandy stared at a console, willing it to provide some information. Some shred of evidence or compelling argument. A glimmer of hope. Instead it merely stared back, the glowing orange display unwavering and silent. It was at times like this that Shepard always came up with some crazy plan or inspired speech to change what seemed to be destiny's inevitable course. Her eyes stung, remembering comforting hands and a strong voice would tell her that she could do this.
"And now there's no one left to save us from ourselves..." she whispered into the darkness of the cabin.
It was one of the finest on the ship, more space than most quarians ever dreamed of having and far from the hum of the engines or labored hiss of air recyclers. It was quiet. Quiet and cold. Always too quiet to sleep.
"You should be happy they even gave us this much. This is still millions of credits invested for what really sounds like a crazy story."
"Upgraded sensor buoys won't stop a Reaper, dammit! It's like trying to use a pebble to stop a river," Garrus growled in agitation, slamming his fist on the table. "We should be building dreadnoughts as fast as they can mine the damn metal."
The other turian shrugged. He was young, younger that Garrus had been back when he'd first met Shepard aboard the Citadel. It felt like a lifetime ago. While the young officer had been extremely helpful in the past months with their 'special project' he was still naive enough to think the chain of command had all the answers.
"You know the Treaty prevents-"
"Spirits take the damn Treaty! It won't mean anything if the people that signed it are all dead."
"Command simply isn't going to buy into that until they see one of these Reapers for themselves."
Garrus sighed and ran his fingers along the scars that covered the right side of his face. Earned learning about the harsh reality of the galaxy. Now he could only hope that his people wouldn't have to learn the same lessons so brutally.
"They will... but by then it might be too late."
"Shadow Broker, new reports from the Illium operatives are available."
"Glyph, how many times have I updated your code to make you not call me Shadow Broker?"
"Apologies, Dr. T'Soni. I have deleted the offending line of code."
Her new office was antiquated compared to the facilities available aboard the Shadow Broker's secret vessel but Cerberus had seen fit to ruin that. It hadn't been entirely unexpected, after all it had been partly Cerberus resources that had aided her and Shepard in defeating the previous Shadow Broker. All the security in the world wouldn't have prevented their eventual discovery with the information available. She could only smile grimly at the thought that at least it had cost them a cruiser.
Pushing the memory aside the asari looked to more pressing matters. "What about our operatives in the Hegemony?"
"Little information is available. Only twenty percent of assets in the area are providing regular reports."
"Keep me updated, then. The galaxy is holding its breath and it doesn't even know it," she said to no one in particular.
"Of course. Update. Message received. Priority, Sender: Admiral Anderson."
Liara arched a brow, a gesture she had unconsciously picked up from a certain human.
"Payment has been transferred to your account, Ms. Goto. Along with the 'bonus' requested," the voice said, warped and distorted by the security programs that protected both of their anonymity. "I don't suppose you'd be interested in revealing why you need this information?"
"Not in the slightest. Ta-ta!" she responded cheerfully before terminating the connection.
After a few minutes of reviewing that the data was indeed genuine the thief initiated a transfer of the actual monetary funds, bouncing the money between a dozen different accounts until it settled in half a dozen smaller accounts with no relation to one another. No reason to get sloppy now. Kasumi Goto had a reputation to uphold, after all, and now wasn't the time to let appearances slip.
She shook her head at the silliness of her line of work considering what she knew was coming. Would her nameless client get much pleasure out of the ancient Van Gogh she had appropriated from yet another private collection? Or would it become just another casualty in the coming war? It didn't really matter in the end but it was something she couldn't help but think about. A smirk tugged at the corners of her lips. Damn Shepard... she used to do this for the thrill, the pleasure of the successful score. He was a bad influence, he had her worried about 'the big picture'.
Her omni-tool beeped, dumping a batch of messages that had also been routed through myriad security network, only to frown when she saw nothing from Tali or even Garrus. So much for keeping in touch. Six months ago she would have hacked their accounts and set them up with a mischievous computer daemon to make them regret their lapse in writing. Now she just accepted it and checked into the next job.
Being responsible was a real drag.
The loud thud echoed through the cavern like the beat of an enormous drum. Wreav staggered back with a loud snarl and shook his head vigorously. For a brief moment Wrex thought that his idiot brother would actually work up the courage to challenge him. Finally he muttered darkly and stalked off. No such luck.
"You should have just destroyed him," Grunt said bluntly.
"Hrmph. And that's why I'm in charge of the Clans and you're not, pup. Politics. You have to beat them, but you can't just kill them. They might be useful later," Wrex replied, returning to his stone throne. "Wreav is an idiot but he's an idiot with followers."
"Destroy them too."
The elder krogan sighed raggedly and rubbed at the edge of his head plate. "Appealing thought, but no. Shepard is going to need every soldier he can get for his war. Even the stupid ones."
Grunt merely shrugged, clearly already bored with the talk of political strategy. "Then what now?"
"Now we prepare. I've got a source with the salarians, something big is going down and it involves us, something that might involve the Genophage."
"Salarians. All that sneaking and spying. Doubt they'll be interested in cooperating. What then?"
Wrex chuckled darkly. "Heh heh... now them, them we can destroy."
Shepard snapped awake with a gasp, gripping the stiff sheets tightly. It only took a few moments for his breathing to return to normal. The sudden jerk into wakefulness wasn't unfamiliar. He'd experienced with varying frequency ever since that fateful day on Eden Prime when he had pulled Ashley away from the Prothean beacon. At night the vision would return, all screams and blood. Fire engulfing entire worlds. Ruthless machines harvesting life like so much wheat.
Swinging his legs over the edge and sitting up the one time spectre rubbed his eyes, starting a daily routine that seemed to blur together more with every passing day. And each of those days he wondered if he had made the right decision to return... or if he'd thrown away one of the few good things in his life for nothing. Damn the Alliance. Damn the Council... damn politicians everywhere.
Within a few minutes he'd dressed and made at least some effort to make himself look presentable. The uniform, or what passed for one, was a simple service outfit without any rank or name insignia. It had taken Shepard a month to get that in the beginning and only then after pointing out that he hadn't exactly brought much with him when he surrendered. Buttoning the last button on his shirt he looked out the window and sighed.
A second later his door rang with a firm knock and opened immediately. Standing in the entryway was an old friend, one he'd seen too little of in the past years. Shepard gave one of the few genuine smiles he had left.
"Admiral Anderson... it's good to see you again."
"Likewise, Shepard. But I'm not here for a social visit I'm afraid."
He examined the man's face, the smile fading from his own lips. For a soldier of thirty years experience Anderson was in excellent shape, but the stresses of the past few years had taken their toll. More gray had crept into his hair and his dark skin was creased with worry lines. The look in his eyes now said everything Shepard needed to know.
Anderson inclined his head ever so slightly. "It is. There's no confirmation yet, but we both know. The committee wants to see you."
"We knew this day would come," Shepard said with a sigh. "We're not ready. Not by a long shot."
"Then we'll just have to do what we can with what we've got."
He nodded, gesturing for Anderson to lead.
"Let's go see what the end of the world looks like, Admiral."
So, this is just a rather short intro the the beginning of Razor's Edge's final chapter. I know a lot of you requested the continuation of this story and I appreciate all of it. I make no promises of update speed or final length, but either way I felt like the story needed to be told.
On a related note I'd be interested in picking up someone to beta read these little buggers to catch my notorious inability to self edit. So if you're interested in the job drop me a line.