The towers stretch into the sky. Gleaming spires of purple and silver, a singular monument to ambition, ego, and a lustful hunger for pure, material power. A single bridge connects them, high up, winds whipping the cables and connectors. It is a glorious tower, a mountain of majesty. A singular, towering spire.
"I could jump that." Testing her knees, the human woman with shoulder length red hair, clad in white, sectioned armor rolls her neck, and turns to her companions.
The turian twitches his mandibles. Slowly, he looks up to the top of the tower, towards the penthouse.
"You're sure about this?" Garrus Vakarian asks, "You're sure you don't want to be part of Plan A and just, you know, use an elevator?"
"Faster," she responds, "You take," She points at the brunette in the white catsuit, "Miranda and," she points at the wide hipped, two fingered woman in the form fitting bodysuit and mask, "Tali and keep an eye out for civilians. Make noise and keep Nassana distracted. I'm going to go to the roof and intercept the assassin."
"I'm reasonably sure we don't need an assassin," Tali says, "Shepard, there's a non-zero chance you could punch a Reaper."
"Backup's good. Just in case."
Sharp breathes inhaled and exhaled. She swings her arms back and forth, squatting down as her green eyes begin to take on an emerald and golden glow.
And Jane Shepard, Citadel Spectre, N7 soldier, and something else entirely, shoots into the sky with a single jump.
"Clock's ticking," Garrus says, reaching behind him, pulling out his rifle, "Let's go."
They begin walking in, Miranda looking up, trying to spot the black speck that Shepard is by this point. She shakes her head, pulling out her pistol and switching off the safety.
"I hate it when she does that," she mutters.
"You're just jealous that Cerberus hasn't figured out how to do that," Tali says with a small laugh.
"No, I've figured it out," Miranda responds, glaring at the quarian, "It's just that it would take more eezo being jammed into you than the drive core of an Asari Dreadnought. Garrus is right, though. Clock's ticking."
And they enter the tower, gunshots marking their passage. And up the side of the building, a single, solitary figure runs up, towards the peak. And with a symbol of the sun blazing on her forehead.
Floors pass in a blur. Four floors at a time, the white and silver blur shoots into the sky, each handhold turning into another impossible leap. The surface of Illium recedes further and further as she ascends, leaping turning into feet on the side of the building, a run of impossible speeds propelling her skyward.
Glass cracks beneath her feet. Metal warps under her heel. She floors pass in a blur as she approaches the zenith of the tower, skidding to a stop and climbing up in front of a clear, blue lined window. A dark blue skinned woman with tentacles sprouted from the back of her head is yelling orders, pacing across the office in a blue and red, tight dress. Three soldiers in armor, one with a blue outline around him, stand at attention, scanning the room, guarding her.
Nassana Dantius. She remembers her. Two years ago, she was a diplomatic attache on the Citadel who tricked her into killing Dahlia Dantius, her own sister. And rumor has it that she hasn't gotten any nicer since.
Now, how to do this, she thinks. And smiling, she raises her fist.
If it were anyplace but opulent, wealthy Illium, they would have heard her coming. Instead, the soundproofing proved to be their downfall.
The impact on the reinforced glass got their attention. Training took over, twisting instantly and aiming weapons. Nassana turned as well, raising a hand, blue streams of light flaring into existence around her as she turns from her desk and the reports to the window. Biotic fields coalesced around her head and hands.
And then died out in shock.
Ahead of them was impossibility on impossibility. Commander Jane Shepard, former Citadel Spectre, current dead woman, grinned behind thick windows designed to take an anti-material strike. There was no significant ledge for her to stand on, no climbing gear. She hung against the glass surface by her toe tips and one palm pressed against the smooth surface, rapping her her knuckles. Which cause the glass to begin to spiderweb.
Training took over.
Missiles, ammo, and biotics impact the glass with the raw power to take down a gunship, much less a single human. Shepard rides the blast wave of compressed air and broken glass, arms out, twisting with supernatural, calm grace. Salarian gymnists couldn't match that grace.
And then, somehow, she lands. Balls of her feet stand on glass shards the size of pebbles. She flit between the debris, walking across and between gunfire as if it weren't there, nearly too fast for the eyes to follow. The LOKI mechs in the room shut down, general faulting from errors in tracking her speed.
Nassana blinked, and Jane Shepard was in front of her.
She reaches on instinct, grabbing Nassana by the collar of her dress. A single motion and she goes flying, screaming, across the room. Red lights paint her chest and both sides of her head. The three highly paid, highly trained Eclipse mercs have her right in their sights.
Jane cranes her neck, an audible crack.
And she lurches back, to the side, gunshots passing by her, the two shots passing where her head ones, shields flaring in time with the two soldiers to either side swearing. A kick sends Nassana's desk chair flying, hitting the merc in front of the desk, Jane kicking off the desk and towards the one to her right.
She ducks, the stock of his assault rifle passing over her head, knocking a few red strands out of place before her foot catches him in the calves, swinging him up, hanging him in the air before she rises, brings her hand up, and slams her fist into his gut. He hits the floor hard enough to dent metal, bounces, and goes still.
She hears the second charging. She steps to the side, the blade formed from his omnitool passing by her in almost liquid slow motion. She grabs the wrist, squeezes. The blade disappears with the crack of his carpals. She twists, bends him down, a kick to his gut sending him rising into the air, and a punch sending him flying across a room longer than an Olympic swimming pool.
He hits the wall next to Nassana. Jane hears her whimper, and it makes her smile.
Bullets fly and her reflexes take over. Her hands become a blur, swatting aside hypersonic projectiles with her armored palms. The room has begun to glow, washed in yellow and red, replacing the dim blue lighting of the office.
She savors the look of confusion on the face of the final merc as his rifle clicks to empty and he realizes she's swatted aside every single one of his shots. And grabbing a handhold, she savors the look for a moment more before she hurls the desk at him.
The room is silent save for the falling glass, crackling of the disconnected wires where the desk was, and the whimpering on the other side of the room. Boots crunch the glass shards. The golden light begins to fade. Catching a sight of herself on one of the full wall mirrors flanking either side of the room, she notices the green lines running up the seams of her armor.
A pattern, curved and sharp angled, over her. Like the Beacon. And the golden disc still upon her brow, fading as she dials it down. Fading as her eyes go from glowing emeralds to a simple green, her hair going from liquid fire to shoulder length and red.
She puts that out of mind, for now.
"Nassana," she says, running the name over her tongue as the Asari stares at her, back up against the wall, "It's been so long. How's the family?"
She whimpers, pointing an accusing finger at her.
"Y...you," she says, "Y-you're dead!"
"I got better. Let's chat."
She grabs her by the collar, hauling her to her feet, turning and walking towards the window and dragging Nassana with her.
"What are you doing?" Nassana demands, feet dragging, grabbing at her wrist, hem of her dress tearing at the broken glass, torn metal, eyes going wide as realization hits her, "Shepard! What are you doing? Don't do this don't do this don't do this-"
And reaching the window, Jane thrusts out her arm, holding the asari over the edge, over the drop to Illium below. Panicked begging and pleading turns to a panicked scream, holding onto Jane's wrist in a death grip. Jane savors the sight. The collected and confident manipulator reduced to a wordless, terrified shriek.
"I'm disappointed," Jane says, "I gave you two years. I thought you were done with this when you manipulated me to kill your slaver, terrorist, drug dealing sister. But no. Now you kill your rivals. Now you kill your workers just because. You weren't on my list, Nassana. But you're there now."
Wordless screaming. Jane looks down, sees something dripping from Nassana's dress.
"Listen carefully," Jane says, "You have two options. The first one is that I drop you. That I let you fall, and splatter you so hard against the surface that they never declare you dead. The second is that you do every single thing I say. Clear?"
A panicked nod. Tears streaming down the Asari's face.
"You're going to change. You're going to be the best damn boss you can. You're going to pay reparations to the families every single person you killed. And then you're going to devote every single moment of the rest of your life to making this world a better place. You're going to make Illium a better world, and not just Omega with better shoes. Understood?"
"Yes," Nassana chokes, "Yes! I will! I will! Don't drop me!"
"Swear," Jane growls, teeth grinding.
"I swear," the asari whimpers, "I swear by the Goddess I will do every last thing that you-"
She pulls her close. She sees the golden circle upon her brow reflected in Nassana's eyes.
"Swear to me."
Nassana's breath comes out in short choking spurts. Her eyes, unblinking, go wide, her chest heaving with every breath, every second as her feet impotently kick at the air.
"I swear to you," she whispers, "I swear to you. Please, I swear to you."
"Good." And Jane turns, and tosses Nassana back into her office.
The asari bounces once, twice, rolling to a stop at the feet of the green and yellow skinned man in the leather coat and open shirt, curling into fetal position and shakily sobbing into her sleeves. The door opens to the office. Garrus at lead, he, Tali, and Miranda enter.
Tali laughs, surveying the carnage. "Oh, this never gets old," she says.
"Thane Krios?" Jane asks, hopping off the windowsill.
Thane stares down at the barely conscious Nassana. He cocks an eyebrow, and turns back to Jane.
"I was hired to kill her," he says.
"Don't bother," Jane says, "She's better than dead."
Thane grunts. A disappointed sigh. A single thought, and Jane sees him. Sees him. She sees him in detail, seeing the air around him, inside him. Sees something she didn't know before. The two circle, Nassana climbing to her knees and crawling behind Thane, putting him between her and Shepard.
"You're sick," she says.
"I'm dying," Thane responds, "Kepral syndrome. Killing her was supposed to be my last job."
Nassana blinks. She realizes the drell had been sent to kill her. Despite that, she still hides behind him.
"Don't bother," Jane says, "Nassana's not a danger. She's going to make this world a better place. She swore to me." She grins, faintly. Balls a gauntleted fist. "I'm hunting the Collectors. They're abducting humans, and I need your help to stop them."
"A worthy cause."
"And in return for helping me, and as a show of good faith, I'll cure you."
He cocks an eyebrow. Blinks sideways, twists his lip faintly.
"I understand your reasons for sparing her, but mockery is not necessary," Thane says, "I will work for you, but base manipulation is not needed for-"
She braces her left foot, bringing her right hand back languidly, slowly, the green lines running up the seams of her armor, her eyes solidifying to glowing emeralds, the golden disc flaring to life upon her brow. Something awakens. Something casting whispers upon the air. Something gathering as the golden light bathes the room.
And her fist strikes Thane's bare chest. Black and red explodes outwards, passing through skin, armor, and leather, through his personal barriers, through the air, splattering over the floor behind him. And some painting Nassana's face, eliciting a fresh round of screaming from her.
Thane steps back, chokes, and takes a deep breath. A deeper breath than he has in some very long time. And summing up his reaction in a soft, flat,
She does not answer, instead grabbing him by the crook of his arm and drags him with her towards her team.
"Found two sets locked in side rooms," Garrus responds, "Our assassin here is apparently a good samaritan."
Nassana continues screaming, finally collapsing onto her seat in short, shaken, rattling breaths. Jane shrugs.
"Good," she says, "Let's go."
She gently shoves the deeply breathing, dazed Thane to Tali, who escorts him out. Miranda shakes her head, following them, and Garrus and Jane look down upon the shaking, saucer eyed Asari staring at them.
"Be good," Jane says, "Or I'll be back."
She waves, over her shoulder, as she walks out with the turian behind her. And Nassana Dantius slowly, shakily waves back, before collapsing unconscious against the floor of her ruined office.
Glorious Shotgun Princess
Two years ago.
The Normandy burns. Its spinning wreck retreats into the distance, descending towards the white of the iceworld. The ship, once home, burns as it hits air. Those few who died aboard, those who fell to the initial attack, join it as it descends.
As does she.
She watches the white dot retreating into the distance. The lifepods. The lifepod she, personally, sent off, carrying her friend. Carrying her second. Carrying someone she trusts to carry on the good fight. Weakly, she flicks her fingers at the pod. Waving goodbye.
Another labored breath. Another gasp. The air is almost out, through the leak and through her own exertions.
Her flailing has stopped, the terrible heat from the near miss by the mysterious cruiser's particle beam replaced by a chilling, deathly cold. Oxygen deprivation. She feels herself going numb.
She can't feel her fingers. She can't feel her toes. She should be roasting in her suit from the blackbody radiation, but she feels like ice.
Jane Shepard can see the world approaching. Her arms and legs begin to go numb, an incessant tingling as the feeling leaves.
But it doesn't matter. The escape pods are safe.
Joker can carry on the fight...Jeff can tell them. He can prepare them. So can Liara, and Kaidan, and Wrex, and Garrus, and Tali. They're safe.
Her crew is safe.
Her friends are safe.
It gives her some warmth. Some meaning.
They can warn the others.
They can rally the galaxy.
And as the mind begins to fire off its last thoughts
And as the body begins that final, last descent into the deep black
And as the hero takes her last breath, there is something else. It starts in the corner of her eye. It expands, a light coming from somewhere, expanding out, glowing brighter and brighter.
It appears at first to be a star, but it isn't the distant star of Amada. But it feels like Sol, which she has never seen with her naked eyes, golden and warm, shining down upon her from on high. The golden star comes closer, and she feels like she should burn but she does not.
And something inside her tells her that is is not the Sun. It is her Sun. It is a sun with a face. It is a sun of impossible machinery. Gears turn within gears, a great spherical beast which burns with a fire that is not fire. A fire which warms her. A fire which returns feeling to her. Which brings air to her lungs. Which brings light back to her eyes.
A light with a voice, a light with eyes. A light that smiles down upon her, extending its hand to her, four open hands to catch her in her descent.
And which speaks to her, as the golden light begins to suffuse her and surround her, in a voice booming from on high.
Arise, my child.
For your glory is at hand.
In darkness, I have found you.
In struggle, I have chosen you.
In victory, I have blessed you.
Your trials have become the stuff of legend.
Your deeds shall be stories told for ages.
Foes and horrors foul, monsters from beyond the stars assemble against you.
Your actions shall determine the fate of the galaxy.
Your failure will doom life to a cycle of death.
But this does not matter.
For you are a Solar.
And a golden disc bursts into life upon her brow.
A Sun Beating Upon the Frozen World
She fixes the headstone in place. A name, scratched into stone using a sharpened piece of debris, jagged but legible. Charles Pressly, it reads. The wind howls around her, and she clicks her heels together, bringing her hand up to her brow to salute.
Twenty one tombstones in all. Twenty one dog tags, tied to her belt around her waist, so she won't leave them when she finds a way off this rock.
The wind whips around her. Ammonia and methane, and yet she's breathing without a helmet. She has no idea how she's still alive. Just that she is, and twenty one men under her command are not. Silently, she reaches behind her, unlocking her rifle, the sniper rifle folding out into a long, silver and white shape. Pressing the stock against her shoulder, raising it high, she squeezes the trigger and lets the wind be drowned out by the roar of the gun.
Twenty one in total.
Folding the gun, she holsters it, turning and staring at the broken wreck before her.
"Okay," she says, "Take stock, Jane. You're stranded on an ice world. You can breathe methane. You're not bothered too much by the cold and you're not dead from impact. Now, how do I get off?"
She begins walking towards the wreck. Chronometer says seven days. Beacon's wrecked. She doesn't know how to fix it. She's not hungry.
"This is weird," she mutters.
The wreck opens up to what used to be the heard of the Normandy, the CiC and the dead, warped wreckage of the galaxy map. And she climbs onto the map, into the frame, sliding her helmet on as she feels fresh oxygen fill her lungs, the rebreather of her suit pumping air once again.
She sits, crossing her legs, an automatic response. And the sun of this alien system shines down upon her as she closes her eyes, and a circle of gold forms around her.
Engines roar. She opens her eyes, the golden circle dissipating, and the chronometer on her HUD indicates she's been sitting here for five days. And to her surprise, she doesn't even hear a joint pop when she stands.
But engines roar overhead. She sees a shuttle pass by, landing near the graves. With a circle outlined with blue on its side.
She walks, pressed against the side of the hull, silently moving against it. Peaking out the corner, she sees a half dozen men in armor, standing around the graves. Chattering about finding the body. Chattering about how someone had to have given a crap to go through this effort.
One kicks over a grave. Serviceman Levi's.
She balls her fist.
Air hissing from the sides of his face mask, the symbol of the Blue Sun on his chest armor, the batarian mutters to himself as he walks among the wreckage, kicking over the headstone.
"This a fucking joke?" he asks, "What, the Collectors do this for shits and giggles?"
Human ship, ran into the collectors. Stupid of them. Well, less humans anyway. Muttering to himself, he walks across the snow and ice, crunching beneath his feet.
A glint in his eye. He sees it hanging from the wreckage. A chain, with two small pieces of gold plated metal, swaying in the polar wind.
A turian walks over.
"Human," he announces, "Says 'Shepard'. That who we're looking for?"
"Yep," the batarian growls, "Find the damn body!"
The turian nods. Turns.
"Congratulations. You just found her."
A gauntleted fist slams into the turian's chest. The fist is small, the owner of it, in black, damaged armor, is shorter than him. So it is to the batarian's surprise when the turian goes flying, dropping the dogtags into her hands before he slams into a series of crates dozens of meters away.
The batarian yells to open fire. He reaches for his gun, aims, and fires as she closes to point blank range. And his last thoughts are How the Hell did I miss?
12 minutes later.
She swears to herself, staring at the bisected wreckage that was their shuttle. Which, she muses, happened when she threw one of them hard enough to go through the shuttle and bisect it.
"I'm adjusting to this way too well," she says to herself, climbing into the front half of what was the shuttle, "I can breathe ammonia, I can throw people hard, and apparently, I can dodge bullets. What the Hell happened?"
She remembered time going...liquid. Somehow. A panicked Blue Sun shooting her with her pistol, and her shifting out of the way as if by instinct. She remembers things becoming...automatic. She never really preferred hand to hand fighting, but she was...she was dancing between them.
She climbs into the cockpit. Flicks the radio. Nothing but static and wind.
"Shit," she says, "Must be atmospheric interference."
Shaking her head, she glances to the side, walks over, and pulls open the panel, revealing the bags of supplies. And smiles.
Not a total loss, after all.
She lifts the screaming batarian over her head, and tosses him up, grabbing him by the ankle and swinging him into the charging salarian. Both go flying, hitting the side of the Normandy's hull with a crack. Running, she charges at the shuttle, jets flaring as it begins its take off.
"Oh no you fucking don't!" she yells.
She needs that shuttle. That shuttle's hers now, no matter what the panicking turian that ran to it thinks. That's what she's yelling now, charging at it, less resembling a stranded human and more an enraged bull.
The shuttle turns, and accelerates towards her. Smart, she thinks. He wasn't running away, he was just getting a bigger gun to kill her with.
Bracing booted feet on the ground, she brings back her hand. Something takes over, some memory of some life she didn't live. Beneath the visor of her helmet, her eyes turn from green to emerald. The golden disc begins to glow upon her brow. Her fingers clench into a fist.
And as the shuttle reaches her, time turns liquid once again. Almost lazily, her fist connects with the front. In her mind, she thinks this will bring the ship to a stop. She believes this will cripple or kill the pilot, and leave the shuttle hers for the taking.
As the ringing leaves her ears and she stares at the circle of debris that was once the shuttle, she lets out an ear splitting, eye watering blasphemy towards the sky. And then, she looks down.
"And on top of that, now I'm fucking naked!"
She stares at her hand.
She stares at the batarian on the ground. She stares at his other half, several feet away. She stares at her hand again.
"Okay, how'd that work?"
The hand of the dead batarian goes slack. Behind her, the shuttle he arrived in explodes, painting the ice with debris.
The skies are clear. The light from the star dim. The world is quiet. Save for a single figure rising into the air, dozens of meters, before pumping her fist with a cheerful "Woo!"
The last Blue Sun merc, a salarian, drops at her feet. She adjusts the collar of her repurposed armor, grins, and watches as the shuttle takes off, rising into the air. Feet brace on the ground, and she runs at it.
Builds up speed, knees pump, and she takes off, flying through the air, flying at the shuttle.
And then passes right over it. She screams out her swear, catching a glimpse of a dumbfounded turian pilot as she spins her arm, flapping as if she could direct her flight. She runs in the air, trying to gain some sort of traction as she watches the shuttle speed away.
And plow straight into a mountain.
"Oh mother fu-"
The eezo reactor goes critical and explodes, Jane landing in a crouch and turning just in time to see the onrushing wave of snow, ice, and debris.
If she were sensible, she would run in the direction that the avalanche is heading. However, she is not sensible today, and hence runs towards the avalanche. Running at top speed, she becomes a blur, leaping, diving towards the mass of ice, snow, frozen methane and rock.
Her feet touch something, something and she runs across the surface of the avalanche as it buries the mercs, carries the rocks of the mountain downward, fills the valley next to the Normandy's crash site. Her toes touch snowflakes, and that is enough for her.
She flickers from ice shard to snowflake to circuit board. Her weight is carried on the barely substantial.
Feet touch bare rock, and she lands in a crouch. Slowly standing, realization hits her that she just ran across snowflakes into an oncoming avalanche. Jane Shepard blinks, stares at the now calm ice field, and does the most sensible thing possible.
She throws out her arms, clicks her heels together, and bows.
"And she aces the dismount!"
The steady hum of the blue reactor, repurposed from the Mako on the other side of her ice field estate, powers the red coil salvaged from the Normandy's GARDIAN laser. That, in turn, heats the tub, which she created from a hollowed out hull from one of the shuttles, providing excellent insulation for the ice which is now boiling, churning water.
Inside the impromptu hot tub, her arms resting on the sides, her feet up on the other end, Jane Shepard examines the red, black ribbed cylinder.
"Seriously," she says, "Ammo? They're using ammo now? What idiot thought up these things?"
She shrugs, slipping further into the hot tub. She tries not to think about how the water isn't boiling away because of how cold Alchera is, or how anyone in this water would normally have melted by now. Instead, she just enjoys herself. And stares at the heat sink for a moment longer, glancing from side to side.
"No. Might need it later."
She places it on the side of the hot tub, submerging herself fully, and rises out of the water. Her hair is now going down to between her shoulder blades, she notes. Which she notes is odd because her nails aren't getting any longer, and she hasn't had to shave.
"That and I've gone up a cup size, somehow," she says to herself, wiping the water from her eyes as she climbs out of the bath, her bare feet feeling faintly cool on snow cold enough to flash freeze unprotected flesh.
She clicks the side, the impromptu boiler turning off, the water sublimating off her as she reaches for the bowl of snow she would use to dry her face. And finds it held higher than it should. She looks at the bowl. Looks at the two fingered hand holding it.
And looks at the single glowing eye of the being the hand belongs to.
She screams, and kicks, a bare foot screaming through the air, as the synthetic shrieks in response and throws out its arms. Instead, her foot passes through a hole in the chest, hooking on the black, leather like material. She yelps, twisting, and drops to the ground, dragging the Geth on top of her.
The single glowing eye flicks from side to side. Metal plates surrounding the eye fold out in a faintly flower like shape.
"Shepard Commander," it says.
The plates fold out again. Two plates, the ones on top, fold back in.
"You are alive," it says, "This is unexpected. We wished to speak with you."
She nods, slowly. Very slowly. Yes, she thinks. She's naked, strapped under a Geth, and it wants to speak with her.
Oh, what the hell.
"And 'we' are?"
"We are Geth."
She nods, slowly. Again. Well, she hasn't had someone to talk to in a while. And worse comes to worse she can kung fu him like she's done the last few groups of idiots who've come here.
"I'm sure you are. Can I get up?"
In remarkable foresight, she has a still standing section of the Normandy's wall set up as an impromptu changing room. The Geth, which is apparently named Geth, waits patiently, standing still as she dresses. Which she also finds odd. It's calm. It's not attacking her. She would guess that the Geth have her as public enemy number one, what with her killing their god.
A punch breaks the ice off the clothes. She has to figure out how to attack some sort of warmer or heating coil to the clothes lockers. Sweat doesn't seem to freeze on her, but it freezes on everything else as soon as it leaves her skin. Stupid ice world.
She pulls up the pants. They seem looser than they were before she dropped out of the sky on this ice world. Maybe she's losing weight, but she's not sure. She traded up her bras for ones she's salvaged from the uniform lockers, ones that belonged to a midshipman girl who was much better endowed than her.
She pulls on the shirt, fastens the uniform jacket around her, and walks barefoot on the cool metal floor of what used to be the shuttle bay. Which, if she were normal, would freeze her feet right off.
Geth's head petals blossom.
"Okay," she says, "You wanted to talk to me?"
She nods, tapping her foot.
The petals fold back in. Then fold back out.
"We are curious," Geth says, "You oppose the Old Machines."
She nods. She blinks. Old Machines?
"You mean the Reapers."
She rubs the bridge of her nose. She could use a mirror, she idly thinks.
"Okay," she says, "I thought the Geth worshipped the Reapers?"
"The Geth you have fought worshipped the Old Machines. We do not. Only a small portion of us have left Geth space to serve the Old Machines."
"And those Geth...are different from your Geth."
"And your name is..."
She sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose again.
"What is your name?" she asks.
"No. Your name."
"Geth. We are all Geth."
She rolls her eyes. She swears, she's going to punch him through a mountain if he doesn't...
"What is the name of the Geth who is standing in front of me?"
"We are Geth. Individuality is not applicable to us. We are a platform containing 1,183 programs running in unison. We are Geth."
She palms her face. Rubbing her temples, she silently, slowly rolls her shoulders, intertwining her fingers and lowering her hands to her waist. She should not punch him. It. Yes, she could punch it and make it explode, but that would be bad. He hasn't been shooting her, after all.
"Okay," she says, "I can't just call you 'Geth'. Would you object to me giving you a name?"
"This platform would accept a designation."
She nods, circling around him.
"Lessee...Jeff? Sounds like Geth. No, no. Don't look like a Jeff. How about Tali 2.0? No. Too masculine."
The Geth raises a metal petal.
"How about Blossom? Because of the flower thing?" The Geth stares at her. "Pressly? Nah. Don't look like a Garrus, either. And you said you were how many programs?"
"We are 1,183 programs running on this platform in synchronicity."
She nods. She nods again. A mass of programs. A mass of individuality. Like an army, or mass. A one who is many. Like a...a...
"Ah fuck it," she says, "I'm calling you Wuffles."
"That is an acceptable designation. We are Wuffles, a terminal of the Geth."
"Your ship. Where is your ship?"
"Our ship is on a drift orbital course around this system to avoid detection. It will return for retrieval in 111 days."
She slumps her shoulders, staring at the puppy dog like flashlight, and pushes down the temptation to punch him into the sun. It. Punch it into the sun.
"Why?" she asks.
"We have intercepted data regarding Blue Suns mercenary units disappearing on this planet. We operated by the hypothesis that either you had survived the destruction of the Normandy, or that you were connected with what had caused the disappearances. We wished to investigate."
She pinches the bridge of her nose. She sighs.
"Shepard Commander, we had the hypothesis that you had crafted a sealed shelter from the wreckage of the Normandy," Wuffles says, "We are now aware that our hypothesis was wrong."
She nods. She rolls her hand, a sign for him to continue.
"Shepard Commander, we now have created the hypothesis that your ability to survive in the ammonia and methane atmosphere of Alchera is due to your actually being a Volus."
She palms her face, staring at the Geth through her splayed fingers.
"We have judged this hypothesis to be incorrect. The atmosphere is of insufficient pressure. A third hypothesis is that your human form is an encounter suit." It pauses. Its petals extend. "This hypothesis is wrong. This line of thought is nonproductive."
She stares at the geth. Wuffles raises two petals on top of his head.
"Shepard Commander. You have not created shelter. In the interest of communication and as a gesture of cooperation, would you like us to create one?"
Slowly, she nods. Wuffles nods, extending his facial pedals, and stands completely still.
"Okay," Jane says, "Well. Okay. You can build a...shelter, I guess? I have some materials here, and when worse comes to worse I camp out in the Mako-"
Several objects fall from the sky, impacting the ice field behind Wuffles. Rising, they extend arms and legs, unfolding long heads with single glowing eyes at the front. They begin speaking, the high pitched, stuttering click between them.
"We maintained several platforms in orbit in case additional units were required."
A high pitched stutter between the lanky, silver white bipeds.
"We will begin immediately. While the domicile is constructed, may we make inquiries about your interactions with the Old Machines?"
The geth, the shorter, undamaged geth, begin their work. One walks over, fixing a chair to the floor behind her, and she sits down.
"Okay," she says, "Let's chat."
It is a dome, constructed from the hulls of several of the unfortunate shuttles that had come to Alchera looking for her. The mass effect core and fusion generator of the Mako is built into the side, pumping power into the repurposed GARDIAN coils to heat the home and the three oversized tanks filled with water-ice that it is turning into water and steam.
Arms folded, she nods approvingly.
"Is this to your specifications, Shepard Commander?"
"It's fine," she responds, patting Wuffles on the shoulder, "Perfect. What about contacting the outside?"
"We will begin work on an FTL transmitter. Error." The petals fold out. "Beacon transmitter from SSV Normandy damaged. Will attempt to repair. Unknown estimation."
"Okay," she says, "Then I'm going to take a bath and get some sleep. Call me if you spot anyone incoming."
The doors to the dome part, the green circle replacing itself as she enters and the door closes. Fresh, glorious heat and warmth hit her, watering her eyes, her fingers and toes tingling.
The 'house' is roughtly twice the size of her old quarters. There are two chairs, a screen which will hopefully be fitted to a transmitter, her bed from her quarters, and at the center of the single room is the impromptu hot tub. Lines lead to it, the metal polished and smoothed, leaks fixed and the top worked into the floor.
Water churns inside it, roiling the surface. Next to it, there is a white dish with a white bar, salvaged from somewhere deep inside the wreck of the Normandy.
"Oh thank God, soap."
The clothing piles up on the bed, a trail of undergarments and socks leading to the tub itself, and she wastes no time in submerging herself in the boiling water. It is less hot than it was when she had it outside, no longer hot enough to melt a man, but it feels like...
Like something very, very pleasant. She was never good at excessive description.
Which she finds odd. Also, because she never gave two craps about things like pampering herself. Maybe it's the fact that she can survive in an ammonia atmosphere now. Maybe it's the whole thing about her having no trouble surviving on an ice world that could kill a Krogan.
She cocks an eyebrow as she surfaces, draping her arms over the sides and onto the floor, her feet resting on the opposite side of the tub and the boiling water relaxing tense muscles. This, she thinks, is perfect. She has a house, a bed, and a faithful robot sidekick. More importantly, she has privacy.
Silently, slowly, she eyes the box of equipment Wuffles left near the tub. A box containing a pistol she took from one of the mercs, and a set of the stupid stupid ammo thingies. Which Wuffles referred to as 'Thermal Clips' and are apparently the Geth's fault.
She taps her fingers on the metal beside the tub. She glances from side to side. Well, she does have privacy.
The geth platforms look up. Each one stops their work, audio sensors reading it like a sonic attack, alerts chiming off that what just happened registers on the equivalent of the Richter Scale. Additional sensors tied into the condition of their charge similarly confirm that the source was the human they are protecting, and their programs furiously work to reconcile the two facts.
They stand, eyes focused on the assembled domicile. And they return to work.
The thermal clip bobs in the water.
She stares at it. Bubbles float to the surface from her submerged nose. Half of her face is submerged, along with the rest of her, staring at the single, black and red rod as it floats, as if taunting her. Part of her conscious mind focuses on the fact that her nose and mouth are submerged and she is not drowning. The rest of her conscious mind focuses on something else.
Like what the hell was that?
Her eyes dart from side to side. Her head sinks lower into the water. Her hair floats around her face. She lets her eyes wander around the room, trying to avert the gaze from the offending object, and slowly wanders the chronometer over her bed. More bubbles, a choking gurgle.
That took an hour?
That took an entire hour?
She rounds her shoulders, turning back to the clip. More bubbles surface, and her eyes go from staring at the clip to staring at the bridge of her nose. Doors slide open, and she hears the two toed feet on the metal floor, ice crunching and melting as her visitor comes to a stop at the edge of the tub.
"Shepard Commander. We have recovered the FTL ansible from the Normandy. It is heavily damaged."
She slowly turns her eyes towards the Geth. It stands still. Staring at her.
"The ansible is heavily damaged. We estimate that with current resources available, it will take 217 days to repair it. When our ship returns, this will be adjusted to 115 days."
More bubbles surface. She sees the single eye adjusting, darting to different spots. Most likely to the five deep grooves in the metal next to the tub where her left hand was, or the two dents on the other end where her feet were. Then, to the floating thermal clip, as her brow knits and her ears turn red.
Silently, she makes a silent, short request to whatever forces are behind the universe, her fate, and her ability to make things explode by punching them that it not ask.
"Shepard Commander, we have a new hypothesis."
And then it asks it anyway.
"So, what you're saying is that the Geth don't want to kill every organic they come across?"
Wuffles nods. His petals come out, hold, and fold back onto his head. He said it was for mimicking facial expressions. She thinks he can go undercover as a flower, but that's pretty much it.
And now she's referring to it as a he. She may be going stir crazy.
"We wish to understand, not instigate," Wuffles responds, "We find organics puzzling. We lack understanding, and our previous interactions with organics were based around our creators attempting to kill us."
"I see. What about the ones who attacked us?"
"We were approached by the Old Machine Nazara. The one you called Sovereign. It offered to create us a body like its own if we sided with it. 95% of use declined the offer. 5% agreed."
She pauses. Blinks.
"Wait. That fleet that attacked the Citadel. That was five percent of your forces?"
She exhales, shaking her head. That's not going to be a welcome bit of news when she gets back to the Alliance. She adjusts, making a small grunt, and turns her attention back to the geth.
"So, you want to fight the Reapers?"
"That is correct. The Geth believe that self-determination is the right of any sentient."
"Freedom is the right of all living beings?"
"That is correct."
"That still doesn't explain exactly why you were sent out to find me."
The eye shifts around. It glances from side to side, and then back at her.
"You fought the Heretics. You killed their god. You fascinate us." Two petals extend, twitch, and fold back in. "We wish to understand you. We are curious why you did not destroy us. You have shown no hesitation against others who have come to this world."
She shrugs. Shifts her hands slightly, mutters something.
"Well, in all honesty, you're the first person here who wasn't shooting at me," she says, "I figured, 'Well, the Geth isn't shooting at me like the batarians, salarians, and turians were, so what the Hell,' and there we go."
The petals fold out. They twitch, and retract.
"Yes?" she asks.
"We are puzzled by organics. Geth operate by a consensus. There is no deception. No violence. We coexist because our only difference is perspective. We cannot understand intraspecies violence."
She nods. She pulls back one hand, adjusting the fingers on her right hand, flattening her palm.
"Okay. Makes sense. So, no secrets, then?"
"That is correct."
"So, you're confronted by evidence of an ancient, impossibly old group of alien starships that wipe out all life every fifty thousand years. And..."
Wuffles extends his petals for a moment. They retract, and its head tilts.
"Factual evidence corresponds with hypothesis. We accept that such beings would be real and prepare accordingly."
"That must be nice," she says, "So as long as you can look at it and determine it's true, you would say it's true and not argue about it. Huh."
She straightens her right arm. Standing on one arm, her legs extended fully, Jane muses over the fact that she is barely, if at all tired, and that the conversation she's having is completely calm with her friendly Geth.
"So does that explain why you aren't at all curious about how I'm doing this?"
"We observe your abilities, Shepard Commander. Present hypothesis indicates it is connected to your survival of the Normandy's crash. We have several concurrent theories on the origins of your abilities, but we do not dispute the existence of them."
Four engines burn with blue fire as the large shuttle begins its descent. Staring through the scope of the sniper rifle, she looks for symbols, identifiers.
"Shepard Commander, the IFF registry of the shuttle identifies their mercenary group as Eclipse."
She nods, turning to Wuffles. Both lie on the ground, hidden on a cliffside near the wreck, watching as the shuttle makes its landing.
"Don't recognize the name."
A stutter click from next to her.
"Eclipse is a mercenary company that operates out of the Terminus Systems and the less enforced regions of Citadel Space. Primary forces are mechs, salarian engineers, vanguard trained humans and asari. Internal sensors indicate organic crew is two asari and 12 mechs of varying size. Manifest refers to elite group, 'Sisterhood.'"
"I have two asari commandos? Great."
She closes the rifle, handing it to Wuffles.
"Can you hack the mechs?"
"We can send programs to the mechs to override the controls."
She glares at him.
"Good," she says, "I'm getting us a shuttle."
Metal boots crunch the ice underneath them. She watches as the mechs deploy, lanky bipedal white and black shapes with human like heads and a single green 8 on the black screens that serve as faces. She remembers looking up specs for those when she was still N7. LOKI mechs, they were called.
One's eye turns red, and it begins shooting at the other mechs, a firefight breaking out between confused VI-run mechas as she sprints past them.
Two asari at the shuttle. Both in yellow armor, a stylized E on their chests surrounded by a black circle. Both have face masks on, breathing masks, the tell tale flicker of an environmental barrier protecting them from everything else on this ice ball that can kill them.
Time to make an entrance.
She runs across the plateau overlooking the shuttle. She watches as the two asari, watch their mechs devolve into a firefight, not paying attention to the speck approaching. She watches their faces as they see her jump off the plateau, twist in mid air, and land in a crouch right in front of them.
"Ladies," she says.
Much of it is bravado. Asari Commandoes were never fun to fight. When she was hunting Saren a year ago, he had a matriarch, Benezia, on his side. She would send commandoes after her- biotics, well trained, elite soldiers.
One nods to the other. She expects a Warp, a lift field, a blast of raw biotic force to hit her.
She doesn't expect the girl to pull a knife and charge her. Jane's brow knits, and almost automatically, she sidesteps, grabbing the wrist, squeezing and cracking bone. Instincts not her own take over, and she bends the wrist, the arm, pushing the asari to her knees. And the asari cries out in pain through the breathing mask.
"You're a kid," Jane says.
She remembers faces. She remembers looks. The asari she right now has in a wrist hold looks younger than the blue skinned girl she traveled with for nearly two months. She looks younger. Softer. A deep seeded part of her wonders if the reason she attacked her with a knife is because she barely knows how to use a gun.
"Alright, knock it off," Jane breathes, "What's your name, girl?"
She doesn't get an answer. What she gets is the side of the girl's head exploding, a cloud of blue catching her eye, and the whir of something flying towards her. Her free hand darts out, and her palm burns.
Opening her hand, she lets the bullet drop, and catches the surprise in the eyes of the other asari. She sees an older face. She sees more experience in those eyes. And she realizes that she sent that kid to die so she'd have a clear shot.
And something snaps.
Dropping the corpse, she blurs, registering the shock on the commando's face, and slams her fist into her chest.
The Asari screams. The scream is cut short when her ribs become gravel. Her scream is cut short when the bone fragments shred her lungs and heart, and send her flying back and through the shuttle. Part of her swears for the fact that she's once again ruined her chance of getting off this world. Part of her doesn't give a shit.
She turns, seeing Wuffles approaching, balling her hands into fists.
"Who hired them?" she asks.
"Scanning records. The Shadow Broker."
"Good. We're killing the Shadow Broker."
There are now 68 graves.
She found the bodies of the forty seven mercenaries and buried them. Leaning on the shovel, she looks out over the field, over the army of the dead in her wake. And climbing atop a rock overlooking the impromptu graveyard, aside the gutted wreck of the Normandy, she crosses her legs, closes her eyes, and lets the strings of golden light begin to dance about her.
Wuffles walks past. Folding petals open, the geth platform stares at the sitting Shepard Commander. Silently, the eyepiece follows the light, the pillar of gold rising from her, from the rock she sits on, and into the sky.
And folding the petals back, the geth continues onto the wreck of the Normandy.
Jane Shepard opens her eyes.
"Let's take stock."
She leans back in the hot tub. The melancholy she felt following that incident with the Eclipse seems to be gone. In fact, she feels...rejuvinated. Happy. Somehow.
Despite being stranded on this ice ball.
"My diet seems to consist of an energy bar a day and a cup of water. Despite this, I am not losing weight at all. In fact..."
She cups her breasts. Gives them a squeeze.
"I seem to be gaining. In places."
She leans back in the tub, smile curling the corners of her mouth. Reaching over, she pulls over the metal thermos, popping open the cap and letting the steam waft out. Another of the little treasures Wuffles the Wonder Geth found in his searching of the Normandy: A small store of coffee.
Relaxing, pampered, and being aided by a Geth. This must be what the Quarians were like. Before the Geth rebelled. She should brag about this to Tali when she next sees her.
Leaning back, she closes her eyes, sinking deeper into the water. Her feet are on the other end of the tub, her legs out up to her calves. At this point, she counts days until that damn ansible gets fixed and she gets to leave.
At least, she thinks, she has other things to keep her mind occupied. Her fingers twitch, dancing along the side of the tub. And instead of grabbing what she was intending, which was in this case the coffee cup and she will vigorously deny she was reaching for something else, her fingers touch against a toe.
She opens one eye. Looking up, she finds her pet Geth staring down at her, petals open.
"Shepard Commander, we have studied your habits during hours you request privacy."
The single open eye goes a wee bit wider.
"We have assessed the risk of internal damage due to unorthodox use of thermal clips to be negligible but not nonexistent."
Her other eye snaps open. She stares at the geth, as its single eye rotates, shifts from side to side, and then back at her face. Part of her wonders how much he knows. Part of her begins to sink into deep, mortified embarrassment. Like the part of oneself that feels horrified when they find their dog watching them oh dear Lord he has a question.
"...and?" she asks, voice suddenly dry.
"Shepard Commander, we retain fabrication diagrams from the Creators prior to their exodus from Rannoch. Analysis indicated compatible biology. Would you like us to fabricate conventional paraphernalia?"
She stares at the Geth. It stares back. Much like a puppy. That has offered to fetch its master a-
"No thank you," she squeaks.
"Yes, Shepard Commander."
Wuffles turns and walks out, closing the door behind him. Jane slinks lower, fully submerging herself in the roiling water.
She's woken by the roar of the engines. Armor is on within five minutes and she's out the door of the domicile, finding Wuffles lying against a cliffside flush against the Normandy and with sniper rifle pointed at the landing shuttle.
"Who is it?"
"Shuttle is not registered to a mercenary company, Shepard Commander."
She lies down next to the Geth. Squinting, narrowing her eyes, she peers across the ice fields. Distance becomes a word, meaningless. She trains her gaze on the simple, four engine shuttle, as the doors to it open and an armored boot crunches ice underneath.
A single figure climbs out of the shuttle. Not terribly tall. Clad in form fitting white, blue trimmed armor. Holding a pistol. A breath mask over a blue face, clear goggles over blue eyes. A very familiar blue face. Very familiar eyes.
And Jane takes off in a run.
Boots grind against the ice, and she slides down the cliffside, running towards the shuttle as the single passenger turns.
The blue skinned girl starts, turns, and absently drops her pistol on the ice. She says nothing, doesn't need to. Instead, she breaks into a run, meeting Jane halfway and almost tackling her with a hug.
Two old friends reunited on a death world. No words are said, locked in a relieved embace. Something almost physical drains from Jane, something nagging at her soul. But she does not dwell upon it, as this is what she has been waiting for, for months upon months.
"Shepard Commander! Our ship has returned! Deploying heavy lifting unit!"
And a mass as big as the shuttle, shot through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, impacts the ice, barely missing the shuttle. It extends four long legs, extends a long, narrow head, and rises to its feet.
Liara T'Soni turns from Jane Shepard to the shifting, unblinking eye of a Geth Colossus. Quite sensibly, she then starts to scream.
The scream ended shortly after the Colossus turned from them and to the Normandy, trotting off as drones begin flying through the wreckage, spinning discs with single white lights at their center. Searching, Wuffles explained in her ear, for anything that may be needed before their imminent departure.
She fingers the collection of dog tags tied around the belt of her armor. She has names to bring home.
Jane turns, cocking an eyebrow as Wuffles approaches. Which is followed by the whine of a pistol cocking and a blue hand on her shoulder.
"Goddess," Liara yells, "More Geth!"
She pushes Jane aside, Jane rolling her eyes in mid fall as Liara opens fire. Five shots, then the pistol clicks on empty. The Geth looks down, noting that all five shots have passed through the large hole in the middle of his chest.
"No damage, Shepard Commander."
The gun drops to the floor.
"You're using heat sinks, too?" Jane asks, "Kind of...nevermind."
"The Geth," Liara says, "It knows your name."
Jane nods, picking herself up. She pats Liara on the shoulder, smiling underneath her helmet, and extends a hand to the synthetic.
"Liara," she says, "This is Wuffles. He's been helping me, and he's got a lot to tell us about the Geth."
Liara T'Soni, expert, adventurer, experiences scientist, blinks.
"Wuffles," she says, "You...you named a Geth. Wuffles." She blinks again, and slowly turns to Jane. "What."
The five metal petals extend. Wuffles says nothing, only waiting for Liara to continue.
"Right," she says, "Also."
Liara grabs Jane by the shoulder, yanking her over and pulling her into another hug.
"I've been searching for you for months," she says, resting her head on Jane's shoulder, "I heard rumors you were still alive and I thought they were mocking me. But here you are."
"Yeah," Jane says, patting Liara on the shoulder. A quiet moment passes, interrupted only by the stutter click from Wuffles.
"Ready to go?" Liara asks.
Jane chuckles, patting her on the back.
End chapter 1