Author's Note: FYI, story takes place post Mass Effect 3 and there will be some spoilers for the game's ending.
Chapter One: The Ending is the Beginning
On the human calendar year of 2183, the galactic community had been forced to learn that a race of sentient machines would soon return to destroy and harvest all advanced organic life in the Milky Way. This knowledge came about thanks to the sudden discovery of an alien artifact on the human colony world of Eden Prime. Commander Shepard had touched the artifact and had seen the warnings, but at the time the only person who believed her, unconditionally, was her mentor and close friend Admiral Anderson.
Anderson and Shepard had both dedicated the last four years of their lives to ensure that this day was possible. Only through the untiring sacrifices of their own blood and sweat, even at the cost of so many of their crew, friends, and family, had they succeeded in uniting the divided spacefaring races and focusing the might of an entire galaxy to bear down on the enemy. The Reaper, those that had been responsible for an unending and merciless cycle of annihilating all technologically proficient civilizations over the past tens of millions of years. The future would remember this final battle, this final push, as either the day the Reapers were finally vanquished or as another chapter of organic dominance coming to a grim close.
In truth, this moment had been a long time coming. The Crucible, the superweapon that would defeat the Reapers, had been built. Designed long ago by an unknown race, the weapon had undergone countless upgrades, redesigns, and improvements as each species attempted to use it to end the cycle of death. It had never worked.
Now it was humanity's turn, and in building upon the sacrifices of the past, the Crucible was finally ready. Humanity had perfected it, built it, and now was the time to end the Reaper threat, once and for all. Every soul in the galaxy, past and present, was watching, waiting, hoping. Even the galaxy seemed to have reason to pause, refusing to blink for fear of missing how it would all turn out. The future was still out there, and no one else had ever made it this far.
Anderson and Shepard sat beside each other, their bodies bloodied and broken. Gunshot wounds, multiple lacerations, and horrible burns decorated them like some macabre display of sadistic punishment. Their life essence soaked their clothes and armor, falling to the floor in pools of red. One of them would be dead soon and the other, not long after. Yet facing their own mortality, they were at peace. Happy and content to share their hard earned victory together as mentor and student, as comrades in arms and close friends.
They had come so far and now it was almost over, the war was almost won. Soon the Reapers would never be able to threaten the galaxy again.
"Commander," the dark-skinned male mused weakly to his companion. Shepard returned with an equally frail smile.
"Anderson, we did it sir."
"Yes, we did. We both did." Anderson swallowed, his mouth dry. The two of them sat on the ground, propped up against a small circular pedestal. Spread out before them, beyond the space station's window, was a majestic and troubling vantage point of Earth in all its failing beauty. The Reapers had already reduced most of Humanity's cradle to so many cinders. "It's a... quite a view."
"Best seats in the house." Shepard agreed through pained breaths.
"God. Feels like years since I just... sat down."
"Think you've earned a rest."
"You ever wonder how things would've been different? How our lives would be... different if this hadn't happened?"
Their conversation went on for another handful of seconds before Anderson realized he was having trouble recalling all of what was being said, as it became increasingly difficult to focus. His eyesight had failed him as well. There was a sensation of a numbing cold, and he knew that his time was at an end. As his heavy eyes closed for what was to be the very last time, his only true regret was that he wouldn't be there to enjoy watching the Reapers burn with the one person whom he regarded as the family that he'd never had.
"Anderson? Stay with me. We're almost through this."
"You did good, child, you did good. I'm... proud of you." He whispered as he quietly slipped away.
Shepard limped down a lonely steel walkway, her right hand limply clung to her sidearm. She had been forced to leave Anderson's body behind. There was a wanting desire to mourn him, but her duty kept her shuffling forward to see this struggle to its inevitable conclusion.
The Crucible super-weapon dreadnought, despite utilizing the finest in resources, scientists, and engineers across the galaxy, was a dud. There was now no way to defeat the Reapers and liberate organic civilization. Where, moments ago, victory had been assured, now it seemed to slip even further away. It had all fallen apart at the last minute, and now it was nearly too late to swing fortune back onto her side.
All was not lost.
Through some sheer luck, and a sudden unexpected twist, she'd discovered the method needed to activate the Crucible and grasp the ending she desired. Pained step by agonizing step, moving as fast as her nearly dead body would allow, she approached the apex of victory. Now it all came down to one final choice. A choice that would determine the course of all life in the galaxy for the rest of time.
Destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life. A choice made complicated by the fact it amount to the murder of a good friend, as well as an and entire race of synthetics who had pledged their aid in defeating the Reapers.
Take control of the Reapers, but die and lose everything she had. To lose her connection with humanity, but still remain aware of their existence as her memories and experiences were downloaded and converted into a Reaper A.I.
Or synthesis, to force unto the galaxy the final stage in the evolution of all life. A perfect blending of organic and synthetic existence into a new framework, a new DNA. Organics achieving perfection through ascension and synthetics, perfection through understanding. But there would be no salvation for Shepard and she question the morality of forcing such a change upon every living being without their consent.
Shepard carefully, but quickly, considered the consequences of each choice. No matter which one she ultimately chose, her death was assured. Such a sacrifice was necessary, and she would not let it slow her down.
The war hero made her decision; the path was clear. She had been forced to make a choice and she'd done just that.
Commander Shepard walked forward into the future and into the halls of legend.
High above Earth, the allied fleet continued its losing war against the Reapers. The two sides exchanged weapons of mass destruction in a visceral feast of light. It filled the void of space with countless newborn stars, each one a ship lost along with the brave crew that had served aboard it. Yet, the allied fleet fought on, trying to give the Crucible team and Commander Shepard the time they needed to arm and fire the weapon.
Their sacrifice was duly rewarded as the crucible quickly and eagerly sparked to life. Trails of light criss-crossed along its surface, slowly at first before bursting forth at a blinding speed into a single focus. From that point, a sphere-shaped blast of unquantifiable levels of energy was released from the super-weapon. The sphere grew exponentially, traveling at incredible speeds and striking the Earth. Engulfing the damaged planet from pole to pole in a tsunami of power, every thing in the world was afflicted. So was every other planet in the Sol system, and all the spaces in between, were consumed by the power that had been unleashed.
The energy hit the Sol Mass Relay, the beginning of the galactic highway that connected one solar system to another. The crucible's energy rocketed down this path, destroying each system's Mass Relay as it went. The energy would cleanse the system, and beyond, from all Reaper presence before shooting to the next system and then to the next. The energy spreading at faster than light speeds to purify all star systems, Mass Relay or not.
The Reapers were subdued; the cycle was finished.
It was a new beginning.
The crisp air of the clear summer night was filled with the gentle sound of a lazy breeze as it worked its way through the sparse desert vegetation. A dry sound of rustling flora intermixed with the chirping songs of crickets and the quiet disturbance of small night creatures. It was a picture perfect example of a calm evening, the sun having set less than an hour ago plunging the temperature to chilling levels. The luminous glow of the lunar body, and the countless shining stars overhead, ignited the sky with their beauty.
"Boy howdy, it sure is a pretty night." The sight hadn't gone unnoticed by a single lone stallion as he quietly mused to himself while admiring the endless expanse above him. He was cantering through the cool desert evening with a purposeful stride. His appreciation of the heavens was temporarily interrupted as he sidestepped in order to avoid walking into an organ pipe cactus. The stallion gave the many tall spires of the cacti a respectable berth on account of its countless number of wicked looking needles. He reluctantly recalled a time when he, as a young colt, had accidentally bumped into one. It was a pained experience he would not soon forget. Yet the stallion took a moment to risk a deep breath of the sweet scent of flowers that had recently blossomed on the prickly plant. He gave a contented smile as tonight was a very special night.
On the nearby horizon the stallion spotted the telltale light of a cluster of campfires in the open air. The smoke of burning tinder left lazy spiral columns which could be seen for miles. He knew that the fires belonged to the local buffalo tribe that migrated daily throughout these desert lands. Outside of the stampeding season, it was common for the tribe of burly buffalo nomads to settle in a different place each night, which made contact between them and the nearby pony town of Appleloosa exceptionally difficult at even the best of times. It was for this reason that the stallion was forced to wait until nightfall before seeking the buffalo out, as the light from their fires would give them away. Normally he couldn't be bothered to attempt to interact with the tribe, unless they came to the town for the occasional trade, but tonight was indeed a special night.
As the stallion approached the campsite, several of the buffalo waved their hooves at him in a friendly greeting while smiling warmly, or giving a respecting nod of their heads. The stallion was here because he had a need to speak directly to the buffalo leader and wise shaman, Chief Thunderhooves.
"Braeburn!" A young female voiced peeled away the stillness of the night with an excited squeal. The stallion turned towards the voice and saw a skinny buffalo calf with a coat the color of orange amber galloping towards him. Her shining black eyes were filled with untold joy at seeing him, her mane of a pale orange waved freely in the breeze just as the white and black feathers in her headdress.
"Howdy, Little Strongheart," the stallion greeted back, a wide goofy grin unfolding across his face like an inflating party balloon. "A mighty fine evening to ya."
"Yes," Little Strongheart agreed, a light blush gracing her cheeks. "It is a most extraordinary sight. The moon is full and the stars are strangely brighter than before. I've never seen them alight with such intensity. Princess Luna has certainly outdone herself this night." She looked up high, a frown suddenly breaking through. It disappeared as she returned to her pony companion, taking a moment to admire his well-groomed light golden coat and dark orange mane. She gave him a warm smile; he was wearing his favorite brown stetson hat. She never told him, but she found him rather handsome with that accessory.
"Is something wrong?" Braeburn inquired, his pistachio-colored eyes softening with worry. From what limited time they'd gotten to spend with each other, he'd become accustomed to her acting rather shy around him. This time, however, it seemed there was more than just shyness on her mind. Maybe it was just his own nervousness, but he noticed that she was continuously looking up to study the stars as if she was expecting something to happen.
"Oh, it's nothing at all." Heart deflected with a wave of her hoof and flashed a disarming smile. "I'm just wondering what brings you out here tonight." Braeburn crooked an eyebrow at what had been an obvious dodge on her part.
"Well, ah came out here ta speak with your father, tha chief. Y'see, mah family is soon to gather together for another Apple family reunion and they decided ta meet up round in Appleloosa this year."
"The last time was in Ponyville, two years ago, right?"
"Eeyup," Braeburn acknowledged with an enthusiastic nod, "so, Little Strongheart, ah was wondering if you and tha rest of your tribe would like to join me in tha festivities and meet tha rest of mah kin. Since, ya'know... ah think you'd all get along like apple pie." He absently played with a rock out of nervousness, worried that he might have overstepped some tribal law. After all, he was a pony from the frontier town of Appleloosa and Little Strongheart was a buffalo from a wandering tribe. He cursed himself for not spending more time trying to learn their tribal laws, their very nature, it was important if he wanted to try and build a future between their two societies.
"I mean... if it's ahlright with you that is. My cousin Applejack will be there, and you remember Rainbow Dash, right?"
"Of course I remember them," Heart grabbed her friend's face and directed him to acknowledge her directly in the eyes, "I think its a wonderful idea. I'm sure father would love to see them again and even if not, I'll go for sure." She then hesitantly closed the distance between her and the stallion, putting a hoof on his shoulder encouragingly.
"I'm just glad that you remembered me... us," Heart playfully gave the stallion a playful push, "despite the rough history between our people." Heart remembered it well, even had nightmares about it from time to time.
Just a hair over a year ago, a terrible misunderstanding between her tribe and the settler ponies erupted over who had exclusive rights to use the rare stretches of fertile land. Despite some effort to avoid hostilities the situation had swiftly degenerated into a declaration of war between the two cultures. The buffalo wanted the land to remain their traditional stampeding ground that generations upon generations of their ancestors had traveled countless times before.
The settlers, alternatively, needed the fertile soil in order to grow an orchard of food to feed the town and their families. A battle had been unavoidable and quickly ensued. Thankfully it had been relatively short lived and although no ponies or buffalo had been killed, there had been a lot of damaged levied on the young town and a lot of buffalo and ponies had been injured during the exchange.
Yet, despite an agreement that the land could be shared and some reasonable trade-offs could be enacted in the pursuit of peaceful coexistence, new conflicts were beginning to arise as more ideological differences began to cause a rift between them.
"Well, I hope the Chief does come. I'm a little sad that some of mah cousin's other friends couldn't make it. But, really, Ah want tha chief ta try and talk with tha Sheriff about this humdinger of a problem brewin'."
That was a lot more that Braeburn wanted to say, but as he worked to form the words fate had other plans. At that instant a world shattering boom split the heavens above, entered his ears and mashed his brain. It was as if years worth of lighting was released all in one simultaneous moment. The intense sound of thunder exploded; even a mountain being cleaved in two would not have generated such a tone. Strongheart screamed in surprise and instant gut gripping terror conquered them as the mighty cacophony left both of them temporarily deaf. The sudden cataclysmic event was not over, as a mighty wall of light appeared on the horizon to the east.
The illumination blanketed the land with an ethereal energy that caused the hair on their bodies to stand up as it approached faster than hell's fury riding a sonic boom. Closer and faster it came growing exponentially in size until it was impossible to glean anything past its veil which flowed and snapped like lightning striking through a large body of water. What had begun as a terrifying curiosity over the horizon had quickly grown stronger and brighter than the sun itself.
They slammed their eyes shut against the offensive sight and embraced each other in a desperate hug, wondering if this unexplained phenomenon was to be the end of them. They both saw their own families flash in front of them as the supercharged atmosphere became nearly unbearably hot. Then, they'd felt it slam into them with a sudden compression of the very air around them and inside them. Existence had become disorienting as they were physically slammed roughly into the ground. Just as quickly as it had hit them it was gone, seemingly content to continue its alien rampage until it had disappeared beyond the western horizon. The sounds of wildlife had ceased and all that was left was the crackle and pop of electricity as the remnants of the pulse dissipated.
A steam-powered train chugged contentedly along its set route, merely a single night's travel from Appleloosa. The voluminous sound of the engine whistle alerted the nearby night creatures to distance themselves of the trains passing. Aboard the mare sleeper car Applejack was curled up in her bunk. The orange coated apple farmer, and rodeo affectionado, hummed a homely tune while she brushed her long blonde mane. Normally she wasn't all that concerned with her appearance, however she did want to be reasonably presentable for the family at the reunion tomorrow. There was also going to be several unmarried stallions present who were either friends, or close acquaintances, of her family. She hoped to put on a good first impression and maybe she could rope one of them in for herself, as more than a friend.
At least she could dream, anyway. She certainly wasn't getting any younger, and she would rather make the decision on her own terms than have Granny Smith carry on her failed attempts to play matchmaker. Plus having an extra set of hooves to help out on her farm couldn't hurt either.
Traveling along with her was her younger sister Applebloom, who was sleeping soundly in an adjacent bunk. In the bed across from Applejack there was seated a cyan-blue pegasus named Rainbow Dash who, although not by blood, was considered as close as family. AJ and Rainbow Dash were, in their hometown of Ponyville, considered stiff and stubborn rivals when it came to matters concerning athletic competition. Lastly there was AJ's big brother, Big Macintosh, who was confined to the stallion sleeper car due to reasons of gentlecolt etiquette.
"So AJ," Dash asked, turning another page in the adventure novel she was reading, "explain to me why you didn't invite all our friends to this little get together of yours?" To which the apple farmer rolled her eyes while tying her mane into a ponytail.
"I done already told ya, RD, everypony already had their own business ta attend ta. Not much ah could do about that. Though Applebloom felt bad that Granny Smith couldn't make it."
"Why not?" Dash looked up from her book.
"Now she did want ta come, but she ain't fit enough ta make the journey. Lately her bad hip has gotten worse. Ah really wish she coulda've made it too, but ah guess some pony had'ta watch the farm."
"Speaking of ponies who should've come, why isn't Pinkie Pie with us? She, of all ponies, always manages to find time for parties and celebrations, busy or not."
"Ah was aim'in ta trying ta talk her outta comin' along. We can't afford a repeat of what Pinkie Pie did last time she visited Appleloosa."
"So, how DID you manage to convince her? I've never heard of Pinkie willing to miss out on any party."
"Turned out to be right easy, ah didn't have ta say a thing." AJ shrugged, "She said that her Pinkie sense had done gone off. Somethin' about a new pony comin' to town soon. So she had'ta stay behind to give the newcomer a proper Pinkie welcome."
"Heh," Dash chuckled, "that sounds like her, I wonder what..." Dash's curiosity was cut short when a bright light from outside quickly filled the cabin. Rainbow Dash stood slack jawed as she witnessed an intense column of light bearing down on them without remorse. AJ saw her shocked expression and turned just as the pulse was upon them.
"Every pony get down!" Dash shouted before throwing herself at AJ and pinned her to the the ground and covering her head with her forelegs, eyes shut tight. There was just enough time to register a sudden spike in the temperature as the cabin became very hot. Then the wall of energy hit, saturated, and then quickly passed through the cabin. Any passenger still standing in the train was knocked down while any free items tumbled about and pieces of luggage came showering from the overhead compartment. Dash let out an uncharacteristic squeal of pain as a trunk cracked against her skull causing the world to swim about sporadically, a bout of dizziness coupled with nausea.
"What in tha blazing saddles was that?" the orange farmer gaped wide-eyed, brain freezing in confusion as she assisted Rainbow Dash up from the floorboards. She noticed that the cyan pegasus was bleeding from a wound just behind her left ear.
"I don't know," Dash added clearly shaken, gingerly cradling her head, thanking her sheer luck to have been born with a thick skull. "I've never seen any kind of weather like that before. What could cause something like that?"
"Applejack!" the shrill scream of a young filly silence further discussion. Applejack bolted towards the cry to find her younger sister crying. Her young hot tears and trembling in fright underneath the covers of her bed.
"Shh, shh, it's alright Applebloom," AJ climbed into the bed, wrapping her hooves around her sibling to try and give some modicum of comfort. Even Dash joined in the embrace, equally as worried as they both were, but trying with all her might not to show it.
The effects of the energy storm were felt across the whole being of the planet Equuis. Every city, town, and living being was forced to witness a level of power beyond their ability to comprehend or control it. Those that had been sleeping soundly, minds filled with the pleasant dreams of innocence, were awoken by the shouts and mindless panic the event left in its wake.
Nowhere was this phenomenon as hard hitting than it was in Canterlot, the capital city of the nation known as Equestria. It wasn't just because it was the center of government, the workplace of countless politicians, and the home of the rich and famous. It was all those reasons plus it was the two ruling princesses, Celestia and Luna, resided. The two immortal deities had been caught just as flat footed as the rest of the nation, and for beings who had lived for countless thousands of years, and seen it all, it was a most unwelcome proposition.
Soon their subjects would come to them seeking answers and the princesses had none to give. Yet, with long practiced dignity and grace they had set into motion a series of investigations to get to the bottom of it. Whoever had been responsible for this slight would be found and brought to task for their actions.
An acrid smell of burning hair and smoke conspired to offend Braeburn's nostrils. He didn't move or open his eyes for fear of what he'd see of the world. After a few strained moments of silent repose had passed, the familiar activity of life slowly made a reluctant comeback when the threat had failed to return for an encore. Both stallion and buffalo became convinced it was safe to open their eyes and look. To their simultaneous relief and wonder absolutely nothing had been destroyed. Apart from a light cloud of kicked up dust and sand, and a few patches of blackened hair, little evidence existed that anything had happened.
"No. Oh, I was afraid this might happen." The buffalo girl said rising onto shaking legs. The sweat all over her body was freezing her to the bone as the air temperature quickly cooled. She then began to pace about muttering things under her breath while the air temperature around them cooled.
"Afraid of what? What just happened?" Breaburn dusted off his displaced hat before returning it to its rightful perch.
"It's my father... um..." Heart hesitated.
"Chief Thunderhooves? What about him? Did he cause this?" Braeburn got into the buffalo's face and growled, swallowing a bit of spit that'd almost flown past his lips. The adrenaline flowing in his veins bypassed any patience to play games or accept half answers. More so he was afraid, straight to the core of his being. He had never heard of anything even remotely similar to what he'd just seen.
"Wait! ...No! Of course not... well... you know how I said the stars were glowing with more light than before." the stallion nodded affirmatively. He too had noticed the star odd appearance, but had dismissed it as Princess Luna being in an uncharacteristically good mood; she wasn't known as 'Princess of the Night' for nothing.
"Its just that my father felt it was a the first sign. For lack of a better phrase, it's an omen, of sorts." Once again she glared worryingly at the stellar bodies.
"An omen? That doesn't sound dandy apples. Ah'll be honest, but I can say ah rightly believe in such folk tales."
"I deeply respect my father and his love of the old ways," Heart walked a few steps away from the stallion, then turned and showed a knowing smile, "though sometimes I did doubt the stories, but now..."
"What kinda stories?"
"There have been stories passed down by my father, and his father before him, and his father before him, and..." the tribal girl face-hoofed, "gah, now he's got me doing it." she lightly giggled with embarrassment before growing serious again.
"Anyway, it's not just the stars, it has been said there would be other signs. I believe what just occurred was the second sign and father believes that something big is about to happen."
"How are ya'll sure that it was?" the stallion asked still very skeptical, yet equally intrigued.
"The stars suspended in the ether of the night will shine with a holy divinity never before witnessed in Equestria for over countless thousands of years." interrupted a deep bass male voice. Braeburn and Strongheart swung to face the newcomer only to be greeted by the grim visage of Chief Thunderhooves.
The ceremonial headdress, consisting of a blue fabric band with a peacock-like display of white and brown feathers, indicated his role as the unquestioned leader. He was a mighty buffalo, easily three times the muscle mass of Braeburn. Thunder's dark brown and grayish coat gave off a full bodied smell of burning wood and calumet pipe smoked tobacco.
"Then a mighty crash will shatter the heavens asunder and unleash a light brighter than Celestia herself. The light shall ignite the very earth to serve as a warning to buffalo and pony alike that the day of purging is among us. That the world will be cleansed of wickedness and sin." The chief snorted for emphasis while panning his hoof about for dramatic flair.
"A prophecy is about to be fulfilled this night," he continued, "and it foretells of the arrival of a being known only as 'The Shepard.' Not even the harbingers of the sun and moon can hope to stop, 'The Shepard,' from accomplishing its divine mission. There is but one more sign left to find."
"Ah don't understand." Braeburn shook his head, fidgeting uneasily from hoof to hoof, "even if ah could believe such a tall tale..."
"It is not simply a tale! Judgement Day is coming!" The chief snorted aggressively in the stallion's face at point-blank range. "You too will come to believe once the final sign is found."
"What must we do now father?" Strongheart asked.
"You will not address me as such in front of the others, Little Strongheart!"
"Sorry, Chief." Heart backpedaled with a submissive bow. Breaburn had to fight to keep his sudden bout of anger in check. Keeping his expression neutral, he wanted to heroically jump to Heart's defense, but the large congregation of nearby buffalo stopped him.
"We must seek out the one who has been chosen to serve as the living vessel of 'The Shepard.' They will carry with them the holy symbol around their neck, the proof that they have come to serve the world as either the savior of all life or as the vanguard of its destruction."
Some time had passed, but he was unaware of just how much. It was only a moment ago that he realized that the familiar background thrumming of electronics and air recyclers had been replaced by the sound and sensation of a cold night's wind. He felt its caress over his ragged body to be truly inviting. It also served to amplify the discomfort he was feeling in his back and stomach.
His brown eyes slowly opened drinking in his surroundings. The expanse he saw reminded him of the Arizona desert. He was also left leaning against a large jagged rock which had left his back stiff and incredibly sore. He leaned forward in a bid to pick himself up from the dirt, however that proved to be a rather bad idea. The moment he did so an incredible shot of pain erupted from the wound in his stomach and he collapsed forward, hitting the ground with a grunt. He was filled with a burning agony, but it was the pain that told him he was still counted amongst the living.
Admiral David Anderson was dead, but he was still here.
Anderson rolled onto his back so he could breathe easier and relieve himself of some of the pain. His left hand probed the hole in his Alliance uniform where the gunshot had pierced him. When he didn't feel any wetness he inspected his hand. It was dry, which meant the bleeding had stopped He was still bathed in a feeling of death, despite it. He pinched the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger, letting out a groan of displeasure.
Uplifted into a seated position he began interrogating his surroundings for further recognizable features and landmarks. Despite the similarities, preliminary evidence gave Anderson strong reason to suspect that he was not in Arizona, or even Earth for that matter. His first clue was that there was no signs that pointed to the Reapers having recently passed through here. The cactus filled landscape was peaceful, serene, and not reduced into a lifeless, dust choked, and debris filled wasteland. Anderson could also see the stars, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to do that before the Reapers.
The second piece of evidence came from the planet's sole moon. Anderson had spent a good portion of his young adolescent years studying Earth's gray satellite. He'd been intrigued by the perceptions of the 'man in the moon,' consumed by historical accounts of the moon's effect on cultural symbolism and religious practices, and had dreamed of what other kinds of worlds existed outside the Sol system. The singular astral body he now saw dangling lovingly in space was too large and had alien patterns as craters and seas of mare applied.
He could deal with the sudden and inexplicable change in scenery, even come to terms with having been deposited involuntarily on an alien world that strangely mirrored his own. He'd traveled the galaxy dozens of times over, and it'd reached the point where nothing surprised him anymore. The most important thing now was that he was still alive. The only things that truly mattered to him was finding out if he was, in fact, the only one left and how he had arrived here; wherever here was. The dark-skinned, career military, soldier pressed his fingers against his headset activating it for broadband transmission.
"This is Admiral Anderson, are there any Alliance personnel still transmitting on this frequency?" He called into the microphone, an edge of desperation clinging in the margins. His ear was filled with a hiss of white noise and his lungs were rigid as he silently prayed for a response, any response.
"I repeat, this is Admiral Anderson. Are there any Alliance personnel on this frequency? Please respond." Again there was no reply and he felt his gut wrench in fear. What if he was alone, if he was all that was left...
"I say again, to any and all survivors out there, this is Admiral David Anderson. Is anyone out there? Admiral Hackett? Commander Shepard?" A few seconds later...
"This is Commander Shepard, I read you Anderson." a slightly distorted female voice answered. A tone of relief and nearly unrestrained happiness prevalent.
"Shepard, damn it's good to hear your voice again." Anderson released a paused breath.
"Likewise, I've been signaling for any allied forces in the area for a while now. Had just about given up. So far, you're the only one who's responded."
"Well at least we've found one friendly voice. Commander, what's our status? What about the Crucible, do you know if it worked?" He said calmly despite the strained effort it took to use a nearby rock to help him stand on his own feet.
"Yes, it worked," Shepard responded triumphantly, "the Reapers are history, I'm sure of it." Shepard's sigh was mirrored by Anderson who let go of a second breath he was unaware of holding, "But we have another problem on our hands."
"That's par for the course by now. It can't be any worse than the Reapers at least." There was a momentary pause. Just as Anderson thought that he'd lost contact with his student her voice returned, but carried an unusual edge of... something. It might've been fear or possibly anxiety, but that was impossible. The Commander he knew was incapable of expressing either emotion while on duty.
"... I guess. First lets try and meet up, where are you?"
"I'm on the ground, rough-rocky landscape, cactus, shrubs...very Earth-like, though I highly doubt that's where we are."
"I'm seeing the same thing, but I'm near a small river. I'll signal my location." Right as Shepard said it, a brilliant blue orb of biotic light shot into the air along an arcing path. Anderson traced the orb's origin and spotted the river in question. It was not very far away and from here he could still make out some slight movement along the bank.
"I see it. Sit tight Commander, I'm on my way." The Admiral took a single step in the required direction when something that made a metallic ring as his foot struck it. He had accidentally happened upon his trusty pistol. Carefully he reached down to grab the weapon and promptly holstered it.
Little did either of them realize that a nearby tribe of buffalo had also taken note of Shepard's signal.
Anderson didn't want to accidentally open up his wound, so he was content with walking in measured steps. Keeping aware of any rocks, needle-filled flora, or dangerous creatures that could get under foot. The trek passed slowly and with minimal incident before he had arrived at the clear blue waters as the river flowed with a pure and natural beauty. He circled in place trying to find any sign of his friend, but grew dismayed when he failed to spot her. Anderson keyed his headset again.
"Shepard, I've reached the river. Where are you?"
"Right behind you." the Commander replied. Anderson turned to eagerly greet his friend and was slightly dismayed when he proved incapable at spotting her. At least until he realized that someone, or something else, was there instead. Angling down slightly he spotted a strange creature standing still before him and it was looking up at him; its full height barely reaching the bottom of his ribcage.
"Surprised to see me Anderson?" the alien said with the Commander's voice. It then sat down on it's rear as both of them critically examined the other.
"Shepard? Is that you?" The admiral said slowly, almost afraid of provoking the newcomer.
"It is," the creature rubbed its hooved forelimbs together nervously, "well, some of me anyway." The sight of a new species of alien didn't upset the dark human. He'd seen so many diverse forms of life over his career that it'd become routine, and even a little uninteresting. This, however, was unprecedented if it was true. Even a little disconcerting.
The lifeform bore more than a passing resemblance to an Earth-bred species of horses, only smaller. Calling it a pony was a more accurate description, and this one had a light tan coat of hair that covered its entire body and was complemented with an unkempt, fire-red mane, complete with bangs, and a similarly colored tail. As he studied the pony with poorly disguised fascination, so did the equine follow him with a large pair of jade green eyes that were hard as stone and incredibly intimidating; set into a face covered with small brown freckles. Taken as a whole, the pony's presence seemed very similar to the original Commander, just in a different body.
Any doubt Anderson had about the status of his longtime comrade faded when he examined the suit of blackened-charred armor that was also largely melted to a point beyond usefulness. Yet it still bore a faded N7 logo on the breastplate. No matter what, his instinct told him that this couldn't be true, Anderson believed that this was Commander Shepard, somehow, physical form to the contrary. It was still a horrendous reality and the shock was clear in his voice.
"Good god child! What's happened to you. You're..."
"I think the word you're looking for is cute," she crooked an eyebrow, "adorable maybe." Anderson had known Shepard for many year had she had never been hard on the eyes. If he had been thirty years younger he might've even made a pass at her. While he lead the resistance against the Reapers on Earth, Shepard had had quite a fanclub of soldiers who admired and respected her. He had overheard many acquaintances and friends describe her as a desirable, femme-fatale, beauty.
In the present he had to agree, she was more cute than sexy, more adorable than deadly. He'd never tell her that, he wasn't suicidal.
"In the same sentence as Commander Shepard? Dying once is enough, I'd like to keep on breathing if its all the same to you. But then I guess this makes it twice for you."
"Don't remind me." one of her ears twitched.
Anderson raised his right arm at Shepard and as he did the orange-yellow color of his holographic display of his omni-tool came alive. The semi-transparent display was comprised of a complex user-interface along with screens that could display a staggering amount of data. Using the highly sophisticated computer he made several cursory scans of Shepard's pony body.
"Hmm, my omni-tool says you really are Commander Shepard. However, it seems to believe that you're still a human." A 3D image of her human self formed over his wrist computer.
"Maybe you have some ideas on what exactly is happening?" he inquired before their attention was robbed by the long singing howl of a wolf. Then the howl was returned with echoing replies of other night predators, many of them, and coming from different directions.
"It's a long story and I'll tell you all about it, but right now we should find someplace safe." Despite her alternate, less threatening, form her commanding voice was as deep and grim as ever.
"I already did some preliminary recon around the immediate area." Shepard pointed towards the south, "I think I might've spotted a nearby settlement. We should make our way there."
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this crossover of mine. For those of you wondering where the next chapter of Pony Space is, do not fear. This story here was something that I needed to get out of my system. Pony Space is next.
BTW, I am fully aware of the indoctrination theory of the Mass Effect ending. While I find the theory to be very well thought out and researched, I can't agree with it. Its just my opinion on the matter, and yes I am trying to be deliberately vague as to the ending. It'll make the story much more interesting.