"Actually, I got zero help from the Alliance, I had to assemble a crew based on dossiers from the Illusive Man, because neither the Alliance nor the Council would help me, despite having my Spectre status reinstated." Andrea spat back, "let me guess, first set of dossiers were given the gloriously vague titles of Professor, Archangel, Convict and Warlord" Alan shrugged, ok she had a point, this was pretty similar. "Yep, same for me too, though I also got two more, for a Veteran and a Master Thief. And working through that list, I gathered a Salarian called Mordin Solus, Garrus, a crazy biotic called Jack and a tank-grown Krogan called Grunt for my crew, followed by Zaeed Massani and Kasumi Goto. Is that the same for the rest of you?" Andrea's frustration was still evident, "Yes, of course it is!" she snapped as she folded her arms. Her green eyes were almost glowing in the eerie non-light of the room. She looked nothing like him - none of them did, really, though Emony had a similar nose. Andrea and Kate's skin looked a shade darker, but that could have been the light. He had blue eyes, as did Emony - in another reality they could have been related.
Was that how it worked? Could that even be possible? He'd grown up on Mindoir, though it was technically possible that she may have been there too, the physical similarities were there but surely he would have known her? He looked directly at her and asked "Where did you grow up?" Emony paused for a moment before replying "I was a spacer kid, like Kate". Scratch that one then - he looked back at Andrea, who replied "I was born on Earth, but don't know who my parents were". At least he'd known his parents for the first 16 years of his life, which had been horrifically changed when his friends and family were slaughtered in front of him by slavers.
You start your life with all the fun of being a kid in the colonies. Earth was the stuff of legend, the great homeworld! The sort of place you'd hear about so often on the news vids, and you'd see landmarks of each place mentioned frequently. It felt so strange when he'd first actually visited Earth for the first time, but that hadn't been until after Mindoir. The shining illusion of the homeworld was shattered - it was dirty, smelly, and still overpopulated, despite the growth of colony worlds like his own home. He missed the trees and fields of crops that swayed in the wind, he missed the oily smell of the machinery on the farms, he missed playing with his friends and running across the hillside for hours. He didn't miss the clouds of black smoke, the smell of his world on fire. The screams of his friends, the gurgling and splashing sounds that they'd made as the Batarians had gunned them down as they fled. Those that had stayed - some were taken as slaves, forced to do unspeakable things for their masters.
Alan had survived mostly by chance, hit on the head by a stray table, the blood that had gushed from the wound made for the perfect disguise as he laid unconscious among his fallen friends. But he'd been strong and healthy, so while the bloody mess of his face had looked horrific, it left only a throbbing headache as he lay there, still, dazed and confused. The Alliance had shown up, though they had been out-gunned and unable to assist in time. Alan had lost everything that day, and he'd never had the chance to find out more about his family's background.
He'd been brought back to Earth and enlisted in the Alliance shortly after, since after his rescue it had been noted that he had significant biotic potential that he'd never really known til the day of the attack. As he gradually regained consciousness, he'd been sure that he was going to be discovered by one of the Batarians on patrol, but somehow he'd pushed him away so hard the Batarian fell back against the hard corner of a fallen closet and snapped his neck. His first kill, and he had no idea how he'd done it. The Alliance could help with that, and help they did with training from their nascent biotics division.
"I lost my family on Mindoir to an attack by Batarian slavers, I ended up being taken to Earth and had considerable Biotic training when I joined the Alliance. I guess Mindoir had some Eezo veins running through the hills." Emony jumped in, "I remember Mindoir - my Mother's ship was sent to assist, the Einstein!" Kate hurriedly replied, "mine too!" as she paused briefly, a mask of realization on her face - "Hannah Shepard, right?" As Emony agreed with Kate, Alan looked at them both staring at each other - physically so different, Emony's long crooked nose and sharp cheekbones much like his own, Kate with a small, upturned nose and wide round eyes - she looked completely unrelated.
Alan looked over at Andrea, and reluctantly had to add fuel to her fire. "Colonist, Earth-born and two Spacers. There's no way we can all have the same parents, we have completely different backgrounds, and yet we all fought Saren and then the Collectors - I hate to say it but you could be onto something." Andrea gave a half laugh but said nothing, she took no pleasure from this. Alan pressed on, "so if that's true, if the key events in our lives since the encounter with the beacon are more or less fixed, what does that mean for any of us? Is this all some big Prothean practical joke? What the hell did they do to our heads, and where do we go from here?"
Kate stepped in and lined up her options. There weren't many other key events to mention that could be forks, right? Unless things had gone differently for these guys... what if... line up the shot "Ok so after gathering my squad I heard that the colony of Horizon was under attack, and that Kaidan was there. I raced over there as fast as I could but the Collectors had already made off with most of the colonists." as she paused for a moment she remembered the stinging of the Seeker swarms on her barrier, the ominous buzz in the air of these insect-like creatures. The Collectors - who turned out to be altered Protheans - had been thorough.
As she'd walked through the empty buildings she'd encountered colonists that had been attacked by the swarms. She looked at them for signs of life - they were alive but completely frozen and unable to move. Paralysed by the bugs, it must have been horrific, but nothing compared to what happened to the most unfortunate of them. Those that Kate had been unable to save had been shipped into pods and carried off into the ship, harvested for some at-the-time unknown purpose.
She'd fought off the Collectors as fast as she could, desperate to find Kaidan among the colony. As the ship rose up and left, her heart sank and she felt the emptiness of failure. Too late, despite all their best efforts. Was that how he had felt when she was spaced? Seconds were all that separated them - all she'd had to do was get in that pod, and yet she was too slow in rescuing Joker to get in there. He must have felt like this; desperate, empty, failed.
She'd been about to head back to the Normandy after she ended up arguing with one of the remaining colonists, only to be completely surprised as Kaidan himself had walked over to her from behind a crate. Her heart had leapt, and their embrace had been so sweet and so very overdue. But then came the kick in the teeth. Time to take that shot. "So, after fighting off the Collectors, I finally find Kaidan, and all I get from him is a heap of anger and spite, and he refused to help me." Emony sighed, "Yeah, our past didn't make a difference, all he saw was Cerberus, and I can't say I blame him for refusing to help me". Kate spluttered back, "What? after all you'd gone through with him, and him with you, you just forgave him for his actions?"
Emony flashed suddenly, and for a brief moment, Kate saw something very different in her eyes, but it disappeared fast as Emony closed her eyes and took a deep breath before replying, "I had no choice - I was technically there thanks to Cerberus, who were the same organization that he and I had fought so hard to destroy. So yes, I understand his anger, but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt". Kate nodded. "I know, I was so mad after that meeting, but I got over it. Took a few drinks, of course" she grinned. Andrea chimed in, "I met him on Horizon too, but he didn't come with me either, not that I blame him. We'd never been close that way, and I was essentially working with a rogue terrorist organization" and Alan finished the set with "same here."
"So Kaidan again acted consistently for each of us" she thought out loud. Andrea couldn't resist adding with a smirk, "aw, did you two not get a chance for a lover's reunion?" Kate snapped back "no we fucking didn't, ok? I loved him and he moved on while I was technically dead, does that make you happy?" Andrea backed down, as she held up her hands, "I'm sorry, I guess that had to hurt." "Too damn right it did."
Kate had spent the first few months after waking up seeking out Kaidan, but couldn't get any leads on him, so when she'd finally found out where he was, it was a huge relief. But two years for him had passed, and he'd thought she was dead. So much pain and hurt in his eyes as they'd met, that wound would take more than a single meeting to heal. And how could he come with her when he was still with the Alliance - there was no way they would have let that happen, nor would the Illusive Man have approved (though screw him, he was an asshole). She had to pick up the pieces after that and find her own way. She'd thrown herself into her work, get those Collectors on the run, push hard, keep finding people who could help with the impossible odds of a suicide mission.
"So, after Horizon, I found some more people - Illusive Man did have some good intel, I'll give him that much. I ended up adding the Asari Justicar, Samara, a Drell assassin called Thane Krios, and I finally got Tali to join me. Then I also found a friendly Geth and added him to the team, calling him Legion." Emony piped in, "Yes, same here" Alan nodded, as Andrea jumped in again, "wait, you activated the Geth?" Kate looked at her, incredulous "what, you didn't? It saved your life and you turned it off?" Andrea frowned in frustration, "yes I left it turned off, and I gave it to Cerberus - I couldn't risk a rogue Geth on my ship on top of my other troubles!" Kate gave that a think.
Legion had turned into a real asset on the team, loyal and trustworthy, it had fought alongside her on several missions, and had been in the ventilation shafts on the Collector ship as they'd fought their way inside the vessel. And she'd learned so much about the Geth from it too, information that had proved to offer her real insight into the Geth and their development and evolution since the Quarians left their homeworld. Even Tali had grown to appreciate Legion's abilities and they had formed a non-hostile truce. Which, for Tali, was as close to amicable with a Geth as it was likely to get.
Without Legion - admittedly, she'd thought about it before turning it on, it could have been a trap, infiltration playing on her humanity. Kate had a thought and looked over at Andrea "ok, so when we mounted the assault on the Collectors we had to infiltrate the ship - there was a ventilation shaft that I had Legion work his way through to remove the locks on the doors to the central chamber. So, if you didn't have Legion on your team, who did you use? Assuming you even had to do that..." Andrea shook her head with a smile, "I sent in Kasumi, I didn't need a Geth, I had a thief on the team!" Emony jumped in, "I used Legion too - what about you Alan?" Alan grinned, "The best specialist with electronics that I know is Tali, and risky though it was, she was the best choice for me."
Kate thought this over and grinned - this was starting to get amusing, "so, what, we all had to choose someone to unlock that door, we choose different people and yet we all still made it ok? You did all make it through ok, right? Didn't lose anyone?" and that brought the room to a chorus of "We all made it ok". Kate chuckled, "ok, so are we done with this charade? I mean, she's right - Andrea's right - this is a joke! We've all made different decisions, we all have different personal histories, and yet we're standing here? We made it through the Collector base having made different choices without losing a team member?" but as she said that final through Kate paused. Another possibility opened itself to her - one that she didn't like, but that also made sense. There was no cover, no time to line up this shot, this was from the hip, instinct through and through, shoot and hope you make the target.
"What if the only reason we met is that we made equally correct decisions, or decisions with enough of a similar outcome, that we four met here. What if others made wrong choices, or choices that deviated too far? I mean, I was only just in time to rescue Kelly and Chakwas and the rest of the crew - an hour later and they would have been dead... if I'd taken even a slight detour..." She looked at each of them and her tone changed, "what if, out of the thousands of possibilities, our four realities are all that are left? What if we're the only ones left who stand a chance of defeating the Reapers? And if so, how can we make sure we don't slip up and lose our chance of winning this impending war?" Andrea gave a snort, "that's assuming we're the ones that stand a chance of winning, and haven't already lost the battle." Yeah, that gave Kate some food for thought. Clip empty.
Emony felt unsettled, "so you're saying there could be more of us out there?" Kate nodded, "of course yes, I mean, just one decision different and you would have a fork. There are hundreds of possible mini forks for each of us each day, the theory means there should be infinite parallel realities". Emony sighed, "and here I am having a hard enough time with just the four of us. So how do we know if we're on the right path, or which decisions are the right ones? I mean, it would be so much easier if we could discuss a situation before going into it, then evaluating the outcome..."
But as she spoke, she felt something changed. Emony looked over her shoulder. The seemingly endless space around her felt a little less endless. There were no walls, no edges, but it felt smaller. She looked over at the others, and they too had started looking over their shoulders, they shared her perception. "Are we out of time? I haven't finished with the questions yet, we must have more time!" she looked over at the others, they shared her anxiety. The hum from the cavern seemed to return, she looked at her hand, it was glowing green, like the ripples of energy on the surface of the sphere - too soon. As she looked up there was a flash of light and she stepped back, shielding her eyes.
When she was able to look, she saw she was back in the cavern. The sphere that had floated so serenely in front of her was gone, and a loud clang sounded out in the cavern as something fell to the floor. The sphere had shrunk to a mere fraction of its original size, no larger than her helmet. And despite having rapidly fallen to the ground, it was now hovering an inch above the floor. The ripples that had covered the surface were still there, but subdued. Emony looked around her, Garrus and Tali were still there. She blinked and took a deep breath - it had finished so abruptly, no warning, and so much left unsaid. "How long was I out?" she asked. "Out? you never left!" replied a confused Garrus.
Twenty minutes of her life had passed in the blink of an eye, a glimpse of three alternate realities - had she dreamed it all, or were they real? As she stepped forward to see the tiny sphere, she gazed into it. For a moment, Emony almost felt like she could see the faces of her alternate selves. If it had been a dream, it had felt pretty damn real. She brushed her fingers across the surface, the sphere seemed to sing as she touched it, but nothing else happened.
They picked up the sphere and carried it back to the Normandy. Tali had worked with Daniels and Donnelly to figure out whether it could pose a risk, and EDI had done all the analysis she possibly could do, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There had been a massive pulse of information when she had interfaced with the sphere, and the Project Firewalker scientists had written to her excited about the vast quantity of data that it must have contained. Only a fraction was captured, but there was some mention about advances in energy transfer and biotics. Emony wasn't paying much attention. They didn't know what had happened in there - in fact, she hadn't told anyone, not even Garrus or Tali, about her experience.
The whole experience had shaken her, and Chakwas had given her a good thorough check up when she'd returned to the Normandy. Something about increased alpha waves, neural activity, biotic amp seemingly fine. Emony thought about talking to her - but what would she say without sounding crazy? "Hey, I just met myself three times over, oh and one of me was a guy" The last thing she needed right now was to be taken off duty for a psych eval. So, she'd smiled, nodded and said she needed rest.
A couple of days later, Emony was in her cabin reading a couple of reports. After her experience with the orb she'd focussed on tidying up some loose ends. She'd ordered Joker to head back towards Illium - just before starting the assault on the Collector base she'd received some intel - one was about the Firewalker team, the other was a seemingly incomplete piece about the Shadow Broker. EDI had spent some time doing some checks on the data, and it had seemed good, so Illium was their next scheduled stop. Maybe it could help Liara with her little vendetta.
As she pulled the last of the reports together, there was a chime at the door. Garrus and Tali walked in, and Emony could see they were carrying a small box. "What's this?" she asked, as she took the box from Garrus - it felt heavy. He almost smiled as she took it, "Well, since you didn't manage to get us killed going through the Omega 4 relay, and since it didn't seem to do you any harm, we thought you might like a little memento of one of your recent missions" Emony chuckled, and with the straightest of faces replied "you got me the head of the Illusive Man? Garrus Vakarian, is this a proposal?" and that got a chuckle from them both, "er, not quite, though I think you'll like it" replied Garrus.
Emony opened the box, and her mouth fell open. "Doesn't someone need this? I mean, someone will want to study it?" Tali folded her arms, "We've put it through every test imaginable in the past few days, you remember how I used to examine Prothean artifacts you recovered? Well, we've upgraded all that equipment since then. There aren't many other tests that could be done to this, and we're all agreed that this is inert." Emony had read the reports - well, nearly read them. Readings, more readings, no readings, no changes, no response. Scientific analysis of a seemingly inert object had become dry reading. Not that it mattered right now, she was gazing at it, floating in the box.
Emony walked over to the coffee table in her quarters, and gently lifted the sphere out, placing it on the table. It didn't move, it just hovered there. She tried pushing it gently with her hand, but it stayed precisely where it was - which seemed to be the exact center of the table. "I think it likes you!" replied Tali. Emony smiled - the sphere looked a little like a combat drone, and Tali's anthropomorphic relationship with her drone had lead to a fair amount of teasing ship-wide. Not that it mattered - that little drone was astonishingly useful.
As Garrus and Tali left, EDI had informed her that they would be at Illium in about four hours. Emony sat on the sofa, folded her arms, and looked at the sphere. Four hours - then, who knows, maybe Liara would get her hacking terminals again. Or maybe not - the intel was vague, but specific enough that it was possible that it could be exactly what Liara wanted. Emony stared at the sphere. She wondered what the others were doing at that moment. She wondered if they were going to Illium too. Illium felt so far away, and so inconsequential. Most things did - she'd had a lot of time to think since the Collector base assault. And since the sphere, her brain had been working overtime.
She shook her head, thinking is all very well, but there are real people who need help out there. Imagination could be a powerful ally, and a crazy distraction. Loneliness could lead you into an interesting state of imagination, where the what ifs and the maybes became possible realities. And parallel realities made those what ifs more plausible.
Emony looked at the pad once more - four hours, intel all in place, reports all done, crew all busy doing their jobs. She closed her eyes, put the pad to one side, and listened. The sphere was humming - it was really faint, but as she focussed her mind on it the sound grew. She muted the music, and the hum was still there - the same intensity, same volume - muting the music just removed a different channel. It was like it was more in her head than in the room. And the more she listened, the more she heard it. As she leaned forward, she saw the ripples on the surface, and the faintest tinge of green energy aura around it.
Shepard took a deep breath, reached out, and touched the sphere.