"Grandpa, did all that really happen?"
"It did, kid. It really did."
"But...but it doesn't make sense, Grandpa. Did Shepard really die? If Earth was destroyed like that, then how...Grandpa, that doesn't make any sense."
"Well, kiddo. That's because I'm not done with Shepard's story."
"...but Grandpa. Shepard died."
"You'd think that. But Shepard died before, didn't she? She came back. And that's the same here. Because, well, you thought her story was over. This is where her story really began..."
She remembers light.
She remembers the burning, and desperation. She remembers it all coming down to one decision, and her feeling in the end that she made the wrong decisions. Desperation. Despair. Loss. Everything falling apart around her, and then
"Commander! We need to get her back to the Normandy!"
Vision swims, blurs. The voice is familiar, and welcome. Thought he wasn't there, though. Blue armor, helmet, visor obscuring his vision. Another voice. Not his, but familiar. White and red armor, short ponytail of black hair. Heart shaped face that conveys more steel than cosmo, eyes like
Like someone who was dead. Atomized across a planet far from home. A sharp intake of breath and feeling returns to her limbs. Rush of blood in her ears and her vision clears. She sits up and she hears joints popping. None of that subliminal whir. None of that feeling of weight she had for months. She almost flies to her feet. Reflex for a different body.
Pulling off her helmet, she tosses it to the ground, sweat soaked red hair falling around her face, down past her chin. Blue eyes with bags underneath, too many sleepless nights as XO. Stumbling forward, she collapses to her hands and knees, emptying a morning's breakfast and a meal bar, swimming in acid and bile. Shakily, she wipes her mouth with the back of her gauntlet, and climbs to her feet. A living Lieutenant and a should-be-dead Gunnery Chief stare back at her. And she can't help but smile.
"Commander," Kaidan Alenko says, hand out, concern on his face evident through his helmet, "We...uh...we need to get you back to the Normandy."
She would kiss him right now. But he would freak out. Understandably. She would also kiss Ash, but she's pretty sure that Ash doesn't swing that way, and she would deck her. But she has bigger priorities right now.
"No," Jane Shepard says, grin crossing her features, "No. And Hell no." She taps her earpiece. The logo- SR-1, crosses her vision. "Normandy! This is Shepard! The Beacon's exploded. But I have good news."
"Good news?" Anderson's voice. Booming. Commanding. Alive. "I'm listening, Shepard."
"The Beacon...downloaded something into my brain," she says, and smirks, "I'm trying to make sense of it, but it's given me a location for something! I'm taking Alenko and Williams with me to find it! Have a shuttle ready at these coordinates!"
"Understood. Be careful out there."
"Aye aye, sir. Shepard out."
She cracks her knuckles through her gauntlets, rolling her neck. In one motion, she hefts her helmet off the ground, holding it in one hand and walking past her squad mates. Alenko shrugs, and walks after her, Ash in pursuit.
"Commander," he says, "You...you just got hit by the Beacon with something. What's going on?"
"I'll explain later," she responds, "You won't believe me until I show you."
Walking becomes a run. Alenko and Ash in pursuit, she makes double time, the grin on her face splitting into a full on smile. Because now, she realizes. Now she has a chance. And Jane Shepard has two and a half years to save the galaxy.
In the 22nd century, human explorers on Mars found the ruins of an advanced civilization which predated our own. Among the ruins were the secrets of interstellar spaceflight, secrets of the stars, and a method of travel which made faster than light transit possible. Humanity called it the greatest discovery in human history. The rest of the galaxy calls it the
The chill retreats, and light returns. He opens eyes for the first time in millennia, and gasps in sweet air. Rising from the cradle, he leaps out, falling to the ground. Picking himself up, he feels for his weapon, looking up and finding others standing over him. But not the perversions. Not the slaves.
Humans. Three humans, staring at him as he rises. One of them approaches. Red hair, blue eyes. She places a hand on his shoulder and he sees. The Warning. The End. He pauses, stepping back, and she begins to speak. In his language, as the two humans stare with tilted heads and two eyes.
"We got the warning," she says, "We don't have long to prepare."
The other speaks. The male. Another...yes. Yes, he thinks. Another pod opens, and another of his kind stumbles out. The red haired female opens her mouth to say something, a smile on her face. And then she pitches forward and collapses.
"You did good, kid. You did good."
Eyes open with a gasp. Head spinning, she lifts her head off the pillow, bright lights overhead and someone humming in the background. Recognizes the voice. Someone that familiar she wouldn't forget. A flash of silver hair and the kind face is in front of hers, as memory still flashes in front of her face.
Must be what being a Drell is like. Thinking disjointed. Make that a Drell and a certain salarian doctor.
"Commander?" the woman asks, "How are you feeling?"
She blinks, smirks.
"I'm...fine, Doctor Chakwas," she responds, "For a given definition of fine."
She yelps as she feels the cool probe of the thermometer jammed into her ear.
"On that we agree, Commander," Karin Chakwas says, "You collapsed from exhaustion right after waking up your guests. Shortly before that, you found your little discovery, after sprinting across Eden Prime. Miss Williams was quite vocal about how she had to haul you back to the shuttle, and how Mister Alenko should have helped by 'Using the Force.'"
Shepard snorts, grinning. She could always rely on Ash for the smart remarks and criticism. That and for killing anything that got in their way. She slides off the bed, feeling the steady hum of an omnitool being run over her, as the doors to the medlab part and David Anderson walks in, standing a good head taller than her and a face sporting a barely perceptible smile.
"Sir," she says, saluting.
"At ease," Anderson says, "Doctor Chakwas, how's my XO?"
"She needs rest. Don't get into a firefight for a day or so and she's back to changing the galaxy."
"Duly noted," he responds, "Shepard, I won't lie to you. Udina is pissed. All he knows is that Nihlus is dead and the Beacon's destroyed. I couldn't tell him the rest, even over a secured channel but...what did you see?"
Death. Twisting into something else. Screams as worlds burn and civilization dies in fire. Desperation and warning. Mothers crying for dead children. Husbands mourning wives, children mourning parents. Old friends reunited to find one has been mind raped into obedience to uncaring masters.
"It...it was a warning," she says, "An empire-wide warning. A lot of Prothean technology was based on neural transmission. They evolved from hunters, and they could do that sort of thing, somehow. We got lucky because their Mars outpost didn't have much in the way of working communication equipment."
Anderson nods. He has a tendency of doing that.
"What was it a warning of?"
"Protheans called them the Reapers. A race of machines from beyond the galaxy. They figured out that every fifty thousand years, they come in, wipe out all starfaring life, and leave. They were at war with the Reapers for centuries, sir."
"We know. They explained that."
"Good," she says, "Good. What about Saren?"
Hands clasped behind himself, Anderson paces. That's not good, she muses.
"It's not a pretty picture that they painted," he says, "We have some knowledge. But not enough. We still don't have anything to connect Saren to the Geth. We need that, too, if we're going to get the Council to actually do anything."
Shepard only smiles. She leans against the wall, her feet still unsteady, her vision swimming. Like something jammed in her ear, sending her balance...off. But the dizziness still passes. Memories of the previous time she was here, when all they had was hearsay, half remembered, broken visions and a completely ruined mission to work with.
Now they have more.
"I think I've figured a few things out," she says, "Didn't you work with Saren, before?"
Anderson pauses. A hint of something. Not something pleasant. Something crosses his face, though, a look one gets when they take a bight of something particularly stomach churning. Like that time Joker tried to cook for them.
"I have," he says, and grimaces, "How'd you hear about that? I thought it was buried."
"If I'm a Spectre candidate, I thought I should read up," she lies, shrugging, "I heard he screwed you over on a mission once. So we know this son of a bitch is dirty and he hates humans. What else do we know?"
Sighing, Anderson walks over to Chakwas' desk, pulling over a chair. Sitting down, her folds his hands, leaning forward, and tells the story she remembers.
A crackle of blue. Energy released, location transposed in infinity, and the great azure gun pointed towards the void releases its latest traveller into the violet and green that is the Serpent Nebula. Four engines flaring, the arrow shaped black and white craft banks as it approaches the single object orbiting the Widow star.
Tapping the consoles, fingers dancing over the buttons of the holographic buttons hovering before him, the man in the pilot seat smirks, adjusts his cap, and glances to his right as Kaidan sits down at his station, still in his body armor.
"How's our guests?"
"They're...good," Kaidan says, sucking his teeth, "Williams-"
"...Ash is with them. Talking with them," Kaidan corrects, and balls his fist and coughs, "We're not supposed to directly refer to them. Anderson thinks that...uh..."
"He thinks Saren might have bugs on this ship?"
"Seriously," the pilot says, turning Kaidan, "Wow. I knew the Captain hated Saren but..."
"This is serious, Joker," Kaidan says, glancing at the pilot, "If he's listening..."
"Then I hope he doesn't hear the secret about all the porn I have starring his Mom," Joker says, "Well, his Mom and the three humans, the batarian and oh my God it's a Krogan too. Wow. How did Saren's Mom make all that fit? I have no idea!"
Kaidan stares at Joker, tapping his index finger on the armrest of his seat.
"Bet he's not listening now," Joker says with a smirk, and taps a button in front of him, "Citadel Control, this is SSV Normandy, requesting a docking berth."
With a start, blue eyes open in the pitch black. He is himself again. He doesn't feel the presence pressing upon him. Standing from the metal seat, heavy boots carry him across the dimly lit interior of the dreadnought. The arm still feels...off. Like a second skin, like a glove over the hand. Not like a prosthetic, but more muted.
But he perseveres. He always perseveres.
When he held the lines against the ape people, he persevered. When he was forced to allow his own brother to die in order to save Palaven, he persevered. And now, in this deal with the devil...this monster that, spirits help him, offered him the way out he needs. He perseveres.
Blue eyes glow in the darkness, and his ally has once more forgotten that organics need light to see. The Asari have taken to wearing breather masks when aboard, when not in his war room. The synthetics need no such thing as air or water, and have free reign of this vessel.
As does he. He feels vents pumping air into the blue and gray steel corridors as he stalks down, the glowing lights of the Geth faces parting for him, providing scant illumination as he finds himself before the core of the living dreadnought.
A glowing blue sphere, suspended high above. The heart of Sovereign. And sitting cross legged, hands on his armored knees, Saren Arterius closes his eyes and communes with his ship.
Kaidan Alenko thought that the most exciting part of this mission was the detour that the Commander dragged him and their third-newest passenger on, following her getting mind whammied by the Ominous Green Obelisk. But no. No, he thought wrong. Because now, he's following a fully armored N7 soldier as she runs at full tilt through the docks of the Citadel. He has no idea how this woman gets this kind of energy. He has no idea how she's running this fast in that much armor. What he does know, however, is that Ambassador Udina is going to kill them both.
Civilians know better than to get in the way of a grown woman in Alliance battle armor. Some things never change, and Jane Shepard counts on this, sprinting through the parting crowd of civillians as she charges down the corridors of Dock 24. The Serpent Nebula bathes the world in violent and emerald behind her, passing ships leaving flashing trails of blue and white.
Omnitool hacks the manifests, using a passcode she remembers from another life. She'll have to explain to a certain Turian how she got his account in a few hours. That can wait for now.
Still young. Not using an assumed name. Someone's going to have to chew her out.
First, she needs to save her life.
Rushing through the crowd, she sees the hood, the opaque visor. Awkward gate, walking through the crowd debarking from the shuttle. Flash of light, glare off of glass on a balcony above. Running and vaulting over a divider into the receiving area. People scream. An Elcor lumbers in front of her, and she leaps, climbing up the elephant sized heavy worlder and screaming at the top of her lungs.
The girl turns. She leaps, her shields crackling to life as she puts herself between the girl and the polonium round, which deflects off her shields. People start screaming, rushing for the exits as they realize that yes, this is now a firefight, and she extends a hand towards the surprised turian assassin as the implants built into the base of her skull crackle with blue light.
A strangled scream as one turian launches at speed off the balcony and flies towards Shepard.
More importantly, straight into her fist.
The unconscious, armored alien lies at her feet. He's still groaning, the mandibles flanking his jaw twitching back and forth, recessed eyes closed and his guns laying at his side, which she kicks away.
Turning to the girl, shakily standing, three fingered hands clenching and unclenching with glowing eyes darting from the unconscious assassin to her, the light on her helmet flickers as she tries to stammer out words.
"Tali'Zorah" Vas Normandy "Nar Rayya?"
The girl turns to her, focuses on her.
"How do you know my name?"
Shepard clears her throat. Cracks her knuckles, then folds her hands behind her.
"You're the daughter of Admiral Rael'Zorah, right?"
There. Simple lie. Gives the girl pause.
"Yes. What is this about? Why was he...he was trying to kill me, wasn't he? Keelah..."
Her knees shake, almost buckling. Shaking her head, the quarian breathes deep, steadying herself.
"I understand you might be able to help us," Shepard continues, "I'm Commander Jane Shepard, Alliance military. If you'll come with me, our Ambassador will really want to talk to you."
The girl nods, still shaking. Can't blame her. Kaidan walks over, staring at the unconscious turian, turning to them with questions on his face.
"Shepard? What...what the Hell-"
"I found us a lead on Saren," she says, brushing loose hair out of her face, "Williams?"
"With our guests," Kaidan responds, "Same with Anderson. But he wants you when we talk with Udina. Care to fill me in?"
She holds back a chuckle. Good soldier, slow on the uptake. That's probably what drew her to him in the first place. He knew when to listen.
"This is Tali," she says, "She might have something that can connect Saren to the Geth. I figure if we show all this to Udina, we might actually get him to crack a smile. So let's head up."
Kaidan nods. The fatigue is showing. She has to cut him a break soon, at least if she wants to keep him from really asking questions she doesn't know how to answer yet.
She lets him walk Tali towards the elevators. He's already making small talk. Good. Just like she remembers.
Now if she didn't have to remember them both dying, she could count this as a victory.
Eyes open in the darkness with an intake of breath. His eyes focus, glowing faintly in the night as he sits up in the bed. Memory. Memory comes back. Everything that happened, everything that messed up and blew up in their faces. He jumps out of the bed, walking across the smooth metal floor. Hands through hair, feeling the cool air cycling around him.
No voices. No will pressing against. No compulsion.
No indoctrination. Ah. So it is a biological alteration. Although, not sure exactly. Because this seems to be not a biological transfer, but something...else.
A chill. Then warmth. In the darkness, the other occupant of the bed, blue skin iridescent in the darkness, shifts and moves, propping herself up on her elbow.
"Something wrong?" she moans.
He looks down. Ah, yes, he muses. He is naked. And there's one of his more frequent liaisons waiting for him.
"Nothing at all," he says with a smile.
"Okay. Eyes up guys. We're going to get you both past security and to do that, we need to trick them. Which one do you want?"
He stares at the door. Beyond it, myth. They watched the approach through the windows of the portside observation deck, as the ship approached it. Five arms open wide, glittering lights running the length. Material of an age lost to time, metal and majesty and home to millions. They have only heard of the Citadel. It was lost. It was myth. It was the beginning of the end.
But now, they are to set foot on it.
Even if they must wear the ridiculous hats being held up by the black haired human. Silently, he takes the one with the wide rim, and the belt buckle wrapped around the middle. His superior, grumbling, takes the tall hat, black and with a fur trim.
"Smiles," Ashley says, "And when I tell you to do the thing? Do the thing."
Donnel Udina. Ambassador of the Systems Alliance to the Citadel embassies. He's never been a warm person, or someone with a tendency to smile. He's a politician and bureaucrat. Promoted past his actual level of ability because he was good at being the advocate, good at being the voice making the demands of the other. He also wasn't, and never was, military.
That's probably one of many reasons why she never liked him. Well, that's probably one of the reasons things went down with him like they did. Might as well start fresh.
Heels click as she stands in front of the desk, and she brings her right hand up in a sharp salute. The older man seems confused at first. He must not be used to military, and especially Anderson's XO, showing him the proper respect due to him as the highest ranking human on the Citadel. He may even get used to this.
"Shepard," he says, voice dripping with exhaustion as he rubs his temples, "What's this I hear about a firefight in the docking area?"
"Apologies, Ambassador," she says, "But I didn't have time to report in. I found out that someone had evidence linking Saren to the Geth, and Saren had already put a hit out on her."
Udina sputters. It's no secret Saren is a ruthless son of a bitch, but this is brazen. Even for him. And she knows him well, by now.
"Right," he says, and sighs, leaning back in the chair, "Shepard, this is a disaster. Nihlius is dead. The Beacon is destroyed. Do you have anything that can appease the Council?"
"Three things, Ambassador. First, I found a Quarian who has audio evidence of Saren working with the Geth. Second and third, the Beacon downloaded information directly into my mind. Part of the information," she lies, "Was the location of a deep stasis bunker from 50,000 years ago that had mostly defunct stasis pods. We found two that were still working. Williams?"
The door opens. A hiss of steel and steam, and Ash walks in, followed by two others. Tali is being interviewed by Kaidan and Anderson, and they need to analyze the data first. This, on the other hand, couldn't wait. Tall, in gold and yellow armor more resembling a samurai than a spaceman. Their heads form inverted cones, flat on top, with four yellow eyes in a line, hourglass irises probing the room.
The second was a lucky break. She figured that the pod would have gone offline, and the inhabitant dead, sometime in the next year to preserve the leader. Too late for the others, though. Far too late.
But this time she has two. The smaller of them, the one she has never met before this time, lacks the scars on the face, lacks the air of melancholy which seems to suffuse his leader, his superior. That much, at least, is evident by the way he is idly looking at Ash's armored posterior.
"How'd you get them through security?" Shepard asks.
"Gave them baseball caps and had them do the robot," she responds, "Also. Hey!"
She turns to the shorter of the two.
"Do the thing!"
The shorter of the two ancient extinct mysterious aliens stands ramrod straight, smiling.
"Hello!" he says, "I am a robot based on the extinct alien species you call the Protheans! Nice to meet you!"
"What," Udina says, "What. You. What. What."
Udina turns from Ash to Shepard, to the two aliens.
"Protheans?" he asks, "You. Live. Protheans?"
Shepard stands at attention. Following her lead, so does Ash.
"We found them near the dig site," she says, "They were the only two left. They've confirmed what I saw because of the Beacon and that means Saren's a much bigger problem than we thought. We need to see the council."
Her answer comes with a resounding whump as Udina collapses. Shepard, Ash, and the two ancient aliens stare at the collapsed form of the ambassador, as Shepard sighs, shrugs, and walks over to pull him back into his seat. If she's going to be nicer to the pain in her ass, she might as well make him comfortable.
"So," the shorter one asks, "Is he dead?"
His answer, from the larger one, is a cuff upside the head.
This is Jane Shepard.
Spacer. Born on Arcturus Station in 2155. Her father is the XO of Arcturus Station. Her mother is, currently, the XO of the SSV Eisenstein. She has a twin brother. She went through five years of intense training at Ascension, ending with her receiving an L3 biotic implant. She went from there into the military, and has been a soldier for years, and one of the youngest N7's on record. Special forces. A war hero. A leader.
Leaning on the windowsill of Udina's office, she stares out over the Presidium. Millions of people live on this station. Millions of people who died. Who died because she failed them.
She recognizes faces. That couple, an expected mother and her brother in law. Arguing about their child. Probably end up as husks. Probably arguing up until...no. No, they settled their things. Probably died fighting.
She sees others. A squat, round alien in an encounter suit, a Volus, exiting his office in the financial sector. Barla Von, one of the Shadow Broker's agents. Would end up working for her best friend. Died. A few days before she died. Not Shepard, though. She died once, she remembers. Then managed to outlive every single person she loved.
Some died on a chunk of rock orbiting a black hole. Some died on the Citadel. Some died on a world on the edge of the Terminus systems. Some died right by her side on Earth, when
She turns, her head at first, then turns around completely. The shorter of the two aliens she found on Eden Prime. The one who actually smiles every now and then.
"Kova, was it?"
"I'm glad you remember my name," he says with a half grin, his voice carrying the same accent as the other's. A hint of african, a hint of british. Alien and wise at the same time.
He balls a three fingered hand into a fist and coughs.
"Shepard, I know that my superior is...less than social, but I did want to thank you for finding us," he continues, "I...have communicated with the copy of Victory that I keep in my armor. My stasis pod would have been shut off next month. You saved my life."
"I couldn't save the others," she says, gaze wandering to the side, where she sees Anderson and Udina talking with the taller Prothean, "How long ago were the others..."
"Three years ago was the last one before I," Kova responds, "He was a friend. He would have..." Four eyes glance out towards the water. "He would have been happy to see this. In my time, the Citadel was a myth."
Hands folded behind him, he stands next to her, looking out over the blue and white. His smile grows wider, yellow eyes scanning over the city before him.
"The Citadel was taken long before I was born. We would tell stories of its majesty. The seat of our empire, long after our homeworld was lost and forgotten. The height of our empire, and the source of its demise."
"And probably the best chance we have," she responds, leaning on the windowsill, "There's...probably a few people out there who will be very interested in meeting you. If you're willing to meet them."
A small chuckle from the four eyed alien. Bracing against the windowsill, he smiles.
"You have given me this, Shepard," he says, "For that you have my gratitude. And my loyalty. And even if my superior will not say as much, you have his, too."
The red and blue sun churns behind him, silhouetting the sitting chessmaster on his metal and plush throne. Light from the honeycomb of screens reflects off the blank metal floor, bathing him in gold. Smoke wafts, forming rings as he leans back, puffing out shapes in the cigar smoke. He's switched over to cigars. Cubans, in fact. Maybe he'll try some others later, like the ones with the long handle, or maybe with a rhinestone tip. He always wanted to try those. Sipping the drink, an old Earth drink called an Appletini, he winces at the taste and sets it down as the lift comes up and the single, black haired figure enters.
"Leng," the Illusive Man says.
Kai Leng, master assassin, folds his hands behind him and nods. He doesn't salute. An N7 washout like him wouldn't do that, what with him also being a raging psychopath. One needs to be to be able to kill a berserk Krogan with a knife. And maybe some butter. But that's not important.
"Sir," Leng says.
"I need you to just stand still for a moment, Leng," the man with the glowing blue eyes says. He reaches over and taps a button on his console, leaning back and smiling.
As it is, the last thing that would go through the head of Kai Leng would be curiosity on why his employer had summoned him, befuddlement at the slight change of temperament of the Illusive Man, and well contained anger on how he is continually talked down to by his employer.
Well, that, and the Widow anti-material round which separates Kai Leng's head from his shoulders, courtesy of the turret which dropped down next to him.
Kai Leng, sans head, drops to the floor, spurting blood over the polished metal as the Illusive Man puffs his cuban cigar and takes a bitter sip of his pink and green drink, smiling as the turret folds back up into the ceiling.
"No one kills my second in command, dipshit."
That sounded off, he thinks. Less his crafted persona and more the man he was before he became the leader of Cerberus. Well, he allows himself a little indulgence, for preventing one of his might-have-beens. Besides which, for all his use, Leng was...not stable. Cerberus needs stability, not assassins who are hot headed at best, unsubtle at best. At worst, raging psychopaths. The disaster that was Leng bugging Anderson's apartment was the least of the problems with him. And with his mind clear, he takes some of the...events...personally. Now he just needs to prevent the rest of those circumstances. And ensure loyalty.
He taps his chair again, turning as one of the screens hovering behind him turns into the image of his actual second in command. The self cleaning robots are already breaking down what was Leng, and the Illusive Man smiles, folds his hands in front of his face, and waits as the black haired beauty's face comes into focus.
"Sir?" Miranda Lawson asks.
"Miranda, I hope you don't mind me taking the initiative, but I've had our codebreakers and IT specialists change Henry Lawson's will to name you his sole beneficiary. How would you like him killed?"
As much as other men take more notice of her other assets, the Illusive Man has always placed more value in Miranda's smile.
"Tell them..." A wet, gurgling cough "Tell them that I held the line."
Blue eyes open with a start, and Jane sits up on the bed, the steady ticking of her omnitool in time with the beeping of the alarm. The window shades of the Presidium hotel fold up, revealing the ever-present sunlight of the Citadel's administrative heart. Padding in sock covered feet on the floor, she walks to the sink. The wall cabinet shifts, a digital camera built into its base turning it into an impromptu mirror as she splashes water on her face, rubbing the sleep and fatigue from her eyes.
Anderson and Udina are talking with the Council. They want to save the Protheans for when they can have them all present. Sparatus said he would be ready in 2 hours, he was the last hold out. Confronted with the possibility of a turian spectre going rogue, he's probably been in contact with the Primarch...
She shakes her head, bangs of damp red hair stuck to her forehead. She knows far too much about the politics now. She was there when it all burnt down, of course.
She stares at the mirror, the light flickering on overhead. Eyes wander to the cheek, her left cheek. She keeps expecting to see the jagged yellow lines, to see the red in the depths of her eyes. It's not there. Unbidden, the hand comes up to her cheek, pressing. She doesn't feel the cool, smooth metal. Just bone, flesh, muscle.
Memories flood back. It's 2183. She keeps telling herself that. She's still human, not a reanimated corpse filled with Reaper tech. Earth is still whole. The people she let die are still alive. And the clock it ticking.
She leaves the shorts and shirt she wears for her occasional, fitful sleep in the fresher, the green lights on the wall built box blinking as it cleans it. For this, she's going to have to go more low key. A sweater and jeans which she ordered enroute to the Citadel, her collapsed sidearm in a satchel on her side. Sneakers squeak on the metal floor of the Presidium, exiting the diplomatic housing. She moves with the crowd, hands in her pockets. The omnitool, invisible in sleep mode, tells her the time, as she fixes two earbuds in.
Soft music playing, she walks among the crowd. She's use her omnitool, use her implant. Doesn't feel like doing that, now. Doesn't feel like using something built in to her. Head down, moving automatically towards the elevators that will take her down to the Wards, humming along with the song.
Walking past the arguing couple, walking past the preaching Hanar, its pink tentacles waving about as the C-Sec turian throws up his arms in frustration, she walks past the crowd, into the elevator, and finds it occupied.
She looks up. Gesture, and her omnitool cuts the music.
Leaning on crutches, pilot cap still in place, still in his uniform blues, Jeff Moreau smirks as Shepard walks in.
"Don't think I've ever seen you out of the blues, Commander," he says, "When's the meeting?"
"Two hours," she responds, the door closing as she enters the elevator, "I had something I wanted to check out."
The lift begins its slow descent, Shepard shifting from side to side. This could be bad. Even when he was fixed up as much as he was, she was...loathe...to take Joker into a firefight. This could be very bad.
"So," she says, "What...uh what brings you down here?"
"I got some R&R," Joker responds, leaning back on his crutches, "Just won this drawing, and got a ticket to the Hanged Man. You know, the comedy show? Decided to celebrate."
"Celebrate what?" she asks.
"Can't help but notice you're not asking about..."
He nods to the crutches.
"Vrolik syndrome?" she asks, "I read your personnel file. I knew."
Well, after he told her, of course, but she's not going to slip the whole 'I travelled in time' thing, yet. Even if Joker's one of the most likely people she knows who'd shrug, accept it, and ask for lottery numbers.
"You got the name 'Joker' because you never smiled during training," she responds, folding her arms with a small grin, "You were working too hard. Then you kicked everyone's asses and were the only guy smiling at graduation. And you're from Tiptree, right?"
"Right indeed," he says with a smile, "So you did read my personnel file. Sister's name?"
"I'd give you one of those manly arm punches, but I'd break my hand," he chuckles, "Well, I just got an email from my baby sister. Dad just got a new job on Horizon, so they're moving in a few months."
The door chimes. Fixing his hat, Joker nods.
"My stop. See you later, Commander!"
And Joker, fumbling his crutches, lurches out, leaving Jane watching him go. She chews her lip as the lift continues its descent towards the Wards. What was that about, she asks herself. She only remembers Joker's sister because she died, and he never found out.
But she didn't do anything. She thought about sending a message to Tiptree, or trying to get in touch with her on a comm terminal or something, but she didn't do anything.
The door rings again, the soft music of the elevator becoming the noise of the Wards, and she exits the elevator and enters the push of the crowd.
This is Tali'Zorah nar Rayya.
Hands fidgeting, she paces the empty office of Ambassador Udina. Needless to say, her plans have been...derailed. She would say that. They have been significantly derailed. Which is better than saying that they have been good and blown to crap, scattered to the winds, and buried under a clusterf_ so deep that Ancestors help her she has no idea what she's going to do.
She intended to find some information about the Geth. Find out how they've changed since they drove her ancestors off of Rannoch three centuries ago.
Now, now, she seems to have been roped into saving the galaxy alongside a human ship, the human commander who saved her life, and two aliens who turned out to be Protheans.
At least, she thinks, At least, this pilgrimage gift should satisfy her father.
The green circle in front of the door to the office disappears. Inwardly, Tali wonders if she should hide, or maybe find a gun. It has been one of those sorts of days. Instead, the day manages to catch up with her and she stands still, the glowing slits of her eyes becoming two glowing perfect circles underneath her fusca face mask. Flight turns out to be not necessary as the door opens, and Kaidan Alenko enters.
Which Tali comes to the conclusion that he must be poured into, because no one should have pectorals as defined as ballistics armor and oh yes she must be more shocked than she thought. A quick glance downward makes her brain agree with her suit that yes, she wasn't shot, she's just very, very stressed.
"Hey, Miss Tali," holding up a gray, tin covered bottle, smiling in a way that makes Tali's suit scream in her ear that her heart rate has elevated, "I brought you something. I couldn't find any actual quarian food, but it's a turian nutrient shake. Berry flavored, and sterilized."
She stammers. Inwardly swears at herself as virulently as possible. Makes a note to install a nerve stimulation package in her suit when she next gets back to the Migrant Fleet.
"Thank you," she says. She takes the bottle with both hands, her mask hiding the smile but her body language showing all the same. He leads her over to one of Udina's chairs, and hesitantly she sits down, realizing that it has been several hours since she sat.
"Sorry about this," Kaidan says, "It's been busy. Although, Anderson argued on your behalf to Udina, and Udina approved you being aboard the Normandy."
"Anderson?" She looks up, straw halfway in the bottle, "Why? I...I don't think I've talked to him."
"Well, mainly because Shepard argued at length for you," Kaidan says, pulling up a chair and sitting across from her, "She made a good point. This probably wouldn't be the only assassination attempt that Saren tried on you, and the safest place right now for you probably is the Normandy."
She nods. Safe. Against assassins who shoot at her with polonium rounds designed to kill her with as much pain as possible. She shudders, her suit again warning her about heart rate and now skin temperature and asking if she has a fever.
"Why did Commander Shepard do that?"
He shrugs, leaning forward and folding his hands between his knees.
"I dunno," he says, "It's...she's...weird. The entire mission to Eden Prime was completely pear shaped. She gets hit by the beacon, we find the...guests..."
"Are they real, live Protheans?"
"As opposed to fake, dead ones?" Kaidan asks, voice deeper, scratchier, an imitation of theirs. He chuckles. She blushes, smiling. "Yeah, Joker thinks that one has the Citadel shoved up his oh right sorry."
She continues loudly slurping her drink.
"Sorry," he says, "It's just...I haven't been on the Normandy that long. I talked with Shepard a bit when we were en route to Eden Prime, and she's just...a different person since the Beacon. Everyone's so concerned about the Protheans or Saren, or what the Council will do, and I'm worried about my commanding officer. So I'm a little ranty."
Tali nods, straw releasing from the port of her face mask.
"If I could ask, Lieutenant, where is Commander Shepard?"
Anticipation makes the elevator ride slower. If that were actually possible. It's anticipation making the butterflies flutter in her gut. Anticipation making her dread this at the same time she wants to do this. Anticipation knowing that she's going into a firefight with the person, the one man, who she knows will have her back.
Even if he doesn't know it yet.
Even if he hasn't met her yet.
Even if he doesn't have her memories of him bleeding out on a space station at the heart of the galaxy.
A mental check. Her omnitool flashes the time as she walks out of the elevator, eyes following the sign to the clinic. She reaches into the pouch on her side, the pistol folding out beeping its readiness, the implants at the base of her skull glowing iridescent blue.
Tapping the green at the center of the door, the door retracts, opens, and she walks in to find three men in low budget body armor, and one attractive young woman with short red hair and in a red and white doctor's uniform.
Gun out, Shepard walks in. The thugs- Fist's thugs, she remembers- shout, surprised, swearing, one of them grabbing the woman, arm around her neck, gun pointed to her head. Shepard's eyes glance from side to side, scanning the room. He should be ducked just behind the wall of shelves and medical supplies. But she sees no one. Nothing. She's the only person here, and there are three lowlifes with guns and one hostage.
Because the one holding Dr. Michel as a human shield has just been yanked off her, slamming head first into the wall next to the monitor screen. A second goes flying across the infirmary, yelling cut short as he goes into a shelf, dragging that and the supplies down to the floor. The last falls, three bullet holes in his chest where Shepard places them.
And then the air next to Dr. Michel shifts, forming into a large figure. Blue armor lined with gray, forming an oversized collar around his head. The same transparent blue over his left eye, cat like gray face lined with spikes, mandibles twitching. Almost as soon as he appears, the crackling white of a switched off tactical cloak marking his presence, he grabs the woman, pulling her into a hug, their foreheads pressed together.
"Chloe," he says, "Are you alright?"
"Fine," she breathes, a small smile on her face, "Fine. How long were you..."
"Long enough to think that Fist needs to be paid a visit," he says, and glances over towards Shepard, one eye fixing on her. Shepard only tilts her head, her pistol already closed up.
"Thanks for the assist," the turian says, rolling his head as he slowly eases the doctor out of the hug, "I was thinking I'd have to finesse that more, but I appreciate the distraction. Although I don't think most people come to free medical clinics with a..." He glances at the pistol. "Stiletto? Type VI? Good model."
Shepard nods, extending a hand.
"I was actually looking for you," she says, "Commander Jane Shepard, Alliance military."
The turian extends his hand, shaking hers.
"Garrus Vakarian. Special Tactics and Reconnaissance."
Which is exactly when Jane's mind locks up, with one question.
Did he just say he's a Spectre?