Chapter 7: In motion.
She woke up and stretched in bed. Only a thin white sheet covered her skin. The dim light of the bedroom reflected on the metallic carapace of the turian sleeping beside her. She smiled, and distractedly started caressing his chest. His sharp blue eyes opened.
"Did I wake you up, Vakarian?" she asked.
"I sort of have a name, you know," he said, quoting her.
"Vengeance is sweet."
"Yeah. Not so sure if Liara had a good idea by leaving all this guns in the bedroom..."
"What's the matter, Vakarian? Is anything in here in need of some more calibration?"
"Always. But, you know?" he said. "It was good meeting your ex-husband. Everything I do from now on will look better by comparison."
"I wouldn't use that as an excuse for not putting in any effort if I were you. I have other offers, you know."
"Really? From who?"
"Well, Wrex said he missed his beloved Bakara..." she lied smoothly.
"Can't compete with that."
She grinned as she got out of the bed in one movement and dressed in two. She glanced at her reflection on the aquarium glass. She had lost weight. Nevertheless, her Alliance uniform still looked good on her.
"I need to talk to Hackett first," she said. "Then I'll speak with the scientists teams, oh, and I have to reach my mother, and..."
"And here we go again," commented Garrus. "I was hoping that when you'd wake up we'd have more than a few quiet days."
"Then I don't know who you were waiting for..." she said, amused. "Are you coming?"
She placed her pistol in its holder and headed out, followed closely by Garrus. The Alliance's new base in London was almost four kilometers away from their home, but Shepard decided to walk. She felt the need to see the city after the war as she couldn't perceive the mood when she had left the hospital in a cab.
Looking down the street, all of the other houses seemed human from the outside, except her own. She stood in front of it and really observed its shape, in a way she hadn't when she first arrived. It reminded her of the interface Legion had prepared for her when she entered the geth consensus.
Legion. Another name to mourn. She shook her head and started walking.
A few blocks away, they had to climb over debris. A cat crossed their path, and then jumped over the remains of a traditional English house. It sat and stared at them, the sole king of desolation. Shepard tried to reach it, but it hissed and ran away.
They kept walking until they reached what used to be a school playground. It was only inhabited by a flock of birds. The Commander sat on a swing and swung back and forth, not because she was tired, but because she needed to hear the sound of it. There used to be children playing in that spot less than a year ago. She didn't know them but she knew they had to be there.
"Where are they, Garrus?" she asked the turian, who stood next to the swing. "Where are the survivors? This school is obviously empty, it should be filled with children voices at this time of the day."
"They are rebuilding, Melody," he answered in a comforting tone. "Their houses, their schools and their lives. I'm sure there are some other schools around filled with children voices. We just have to keep walking."
"I get to keep walking, when so many others won't have the chance..." she said in a doleful tone.
"So many will keep walking because you never gave up," he retorted. "Don't do this to yourself. You did everything you could, and you are the one person who did even what she couldn't do."
She stopped the swing and got up. She resumed the walk, without saying another word. He walked by her side, unsure of what to say or do to cheer her up. How could he, a turian who failed in everything he tried to do for himself, lift the spirit of Commander Shepard, the galactic hero, the person who had served him as a personal inspiration? Yet he had to try, because she was also the woman he loved. He grabbed her arm, inviting her to stop. She looked at him.
"I had the chance to read some human history while you were at the hospital," he said. "You had a great plague some centuries ago, the Black Death. It killed millions. But you recovered, because it's in human spirit."
She hinted a smile. "Thank you, Garrus," she whispered.
Some blocks ahead, they could hear children voices and laughter, and also the noises the geth used to make. They hurried, but she froze when she could see what was happening. Her hands clenched in anger.
A group of children, aged eight to twelve, were watching the geth work, and throwing stones at them. The children rejoiced every time a rock hit the chassis of a worker, however the geth didn't stop their labor. She ran towards the group, and grabbed a girl's hand before she could throw the piece of rubble she had in her hand.
"Would you like it if someone did this to you?" she asked the girl, but she made it clear she was addressing the whole group. "What would you think if someone would throw stones at your parents while they work?"
"But... they are just machines..." the girl said.
"That's not true. They're alive like you and me. They're just made of something different." She pointed at Garrus. "Would you say he's not alive?"
The girl laughed. "Of course he's alive, but he's a turian."
"That's right, but he's not made from the same stuff we are. He can't eat our food. It's the same with the geth, they are alive. They have their own thoughts and feelings, even if they're different from ours."
"My dad says they're dangerous," commented a boy. "He says they could turn against us."
"Only if they are attacked. Wouldn't you?" Shepard asked them. "Go home and tell your parents they're wrong. Tell them Commander Shepard can attest that they had the chance to harm people and chose not to. They can ask me any time."
"Wow, are you Shepard?" asked another boy. "I thought you'd be taller."
The group was excited about the revelation. They all started talking at the same time, popping all kind of questions. She answered some of them, and then ordered the kids to go home and be nice. The children left, running and talking about meeting the Commander Shepard.
One of the geth swiveled around and said, "Thank you, Shepard-Commander."
"Thank you, for not harming them," she replied.
"Our calculations determined that the terminal velocity at which the projectiles reached our structure was not sufficient to produce integrity damages."
"Of course," Garrus commented.
"Yeah," she said. "Next time, tell them to stop. Do not hurt them, but let them know you aren't just machines. Human children aren't born knowing everything an adult should."
The turian and the human kept walking. When the geth couldn't hear them, she said:
"You were right, Garrus, things are falling apart. How are we even going to pull this off? These children were only repeating what their parents told them. I can't yell at every living creature in this galaxy. Even if I could, would they all listen?"
"Hey, Commander, I'm the pessimist here!" exclaimed Garrus. "You're pushing me out of business! Where's the stubborn woman who always finds a way just because she can't bear the idea that there isn't one?"
"She's tired, I guess. But you're right, we'll find a way. It's just that... my dad..." she admitted, finally letting go the words that were pressing her chest for the last few days.
"I know," he said as he hugged her tight to his chest. "I'm sure that wherever he is, he's looking after you."
"He was a great man, and a remarkable soldier. I didn't see him too often, but we talked when we could. I'll miss him," she shook her head. "Let's go."
They walked in silence for a few more blocks. Finally they ran into a street gang, consisting in five humans and two batarians, which blocked their way. Garrus drew his pistol, but the Commander just stood in front of them, shifting the weight to one leg. She was analyzing them.
"Commander Shepard," one of the batarians said.
"So, what's this about?" she replied. "Do you really want to cause me trouble?"
"No," interjected the other batarian. "We were up there protecting the Crucible, with our fleet, like everybody else. We didn't survive the Reapers just to die here in an alley, by your hand. We aren't stupid. We know that if even if we managed to kill you for what you did to Aratoht, your people would avenge you."
"Do you think I don't feel bad about Aratoht?" she said. "The Reapers were coming, we weren't ready, and we would all be dead if they had made it through the relay at that time. So no, I don't regret it, I did what I had to do. And it was hard like hell."
"That is exactly what we wanted to hear," said the batarian who spoke first. "That it was hard like hell. That you didn't have fun killing our people."
"That you can be sure of," she affirmed. Then she added, "I'm sorry about Khar'shan."
"They say that the mass relays will be rebuilt. We'll re-conquer Khar'shan, that we can tell you. Now, feel free to go. We won't delay you any longer."
They moved to let Shepard and Garrus pass. Garrus holstered his weapon and they kept walking.
"Damn batarians," said Garrus when they were out of sight. "Every time I find one, I feel like putting a bullet through his head."
"There has been enough death already," she replied. "I don't like them in general, but these two were pretty decent. Their question was a valid one."
They reached the Thames. There was a bridge a few meters ahead, with a big sign in red letters stating that it was restored only for pedestrian crossing. They walked half way across it, and she stopped to lean on the railing, facing the water.
"Do you have rivers in Palaven?" she asked.
"Like this? No, we don't," Garrus replied. "We have water, of course, but this planet has a lot of it on the surface. I've seen pictures of your oceans, they're quite impressive."
"I haven't seen a lot of pictures of your world myself."
"I'll find you some, but don't expect so much variety. You've seen one city, you've seen them all. There are some places I liked... but it's not like I could ever take you there. Even if they still existed –and the mass relays worked – there's too much radiation for a human body."
"That's not a problem at all. I could suit up… or did you mean to kiss me on your favorite spots on Palaven?"
"I could kiss you now," he said, the look on his face playful. He grabbed her by her waist, and kissed her.
A minute later, a little girl came running across the bridge, followed by her mother. The girl was missing about half her face and had a prosthetic arm. She waved at them, but her mother grabbed her and held her in her arms.
"Are you Commander Shepard?" the mother asked.
"Yes, I am," replied Melody.
The woman spat on the Commander's face, hitting her cheek. Garrus stepped forward, angry at the blatant disrespect, but Shepard waved him off. She wiped it away with the back of her hand.
"Bitch," said the woman, holding the little girl. "They say you are a hero, but it was your fault, the Alliance's fault, that the Reapers ever came to Earth. They don't target civilizations without space travel tech, the Alliance is denying it but the word on the street says differently. I wish you have all died, instead of my girl's father. Instead of my son."
The woman walked away with her child in tow and vanished in the thin mist.