Disclaimer: I do not own Mass Effect or any characters or ideas portrayed in it. If I did, we'd have gotten a freaking happy ending, I assure you.
Author's Note: This is my first foray into Mass Effect fanfiction. Actually, I believe it's my first published foray into any video game fanfiction. That being said...I played the first Mass Effect, you know, the one that lays out all the foundation for the rest of the story, once. And I broke my controller trying to drive the Mako while gritting my teeth in rage. So I won't be attempting it again. And I don't claim to know the lore, for lack of a better word, nearly as well as most fans, so if you find an error that clashes with something canon in a way that is not obviously intended, please let me know and I'll do my best to fix it.
Author's Note, part deux: This can stand alone and end here. Or this could continue into a multi-chapter story involving the struggles of putting Shepard back together and reuniting her with Kaidan, who is stranded on some random world with the rest of the crew of the Normandy. It's all up to you, dear readers. Want to see more? Let me know, and I shall do my best to oblige.
"No." Xandria Shepard stood, staring at the flickering ghost of the child she couldn't save, and she refused. "That's not right. I need another option."
"We understand your objection," the child who was not a child replied. "You do not wish to die."
"Damn straight, I don't wish to die." She thought of Kaidan, of their last night on the Normandy together. Their goodbye. His words echoed in her mind. I can't lose you again... "But that's not why." She pointed to the control console. "Taking control of the Reapers, just like they wished to control and then exterminate us? I won't do that. It's wrong on every possible level."
Next, she nodded to the shaft of light directly in front of her. "I won't change everything about every living creature either. You may think it's the last step of evolution, but evolution doesn't happen in an instant, like that. It takes time. If every creature wakes up tomorrow morning and is suddenly different from how they've been their entire lives, there will be chaos like you would not believe. And isn't chaos the thing you're trying to avoid?"
Finally, she looked at the last option. "And then there's that one." She thought about it, taking more time than she should have, given the battle that was happening on the Earth below her. "The Reapers need to die. I can't think of anything more wrong than a species existing for the specific purpose of wiping out all civilized life in the galaxy. But just because those machines need to go doesn't mean all the rest do."
On this, the child voiced its disagreement. "Organics and synthetics will always be at war. It is never-ending chaos. That is why the Reapers came to be."
"Look out there!" Shepard commanded it. "You can see the Geth ships. They are here, fighting for organic life, and not because they were programmed to. They made their choice to stand with us, with all organics. They also chose to help the Quarians, the race they've been at war with for three centuries. With the help of the Geth, the Quarians will be able to live their lives outside of their suits in just a few years, and not just on their Homeworld. If that's not organic and synthetic cooperation, I don't know what is." She thought of EDI and smiled. "I've also got an AI on my ship who is in love with our flight lieutenant. I'm sure she'd be only too happy to tell you exactly how wrong your assumptions are."
She saw a flicker of what might have been some kind of amusement passing across the face of the little boy. "Perhaps we have misjudged the situation. More likely, it is possible that there have been changes since we put our system in place. But it is far too late now to present you with another option, even if we did think it was wise. However...we can grant you one allowance. You should know...there are beings in almost every culture that believe there is some kind of magic in intentions. Two identical actions could have vastly different outcomes, depending on the thoughts and wills of the people performing those actions. Take this knowledge with you when you make your decision."
Shepard thought about that. It made a lot of sense, actually. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of situations since the war started that only turned out well because of what she meant to do. Like Udina. She hadn't killed him because she'd been angry at him for his betrayal, because she didn't like the guy, or because he was a slimy bastard who really needed a bullet in the brain. She'd killed him to defend the Asari Counselor. And because her actions had been an act of protection and not of rage, Kaidan had been able to understand and forgive her. If her intentions had been different, she was sure it wouldn't have worked out that way.
She didn't have a lot of time to think, but Commander Xandria Shepard was nothing if not brilliant when it came to finding loopholes. She would die if she tried to control the Reapers. Her consciousness would survive, but...
...I can't lose you again...
...But Kaidan's voice would haunt her for the rest of time. She'd promised she would find her way back to him, and she couldn't do that as a Reaper. Synthesis wasn't an option either. No matter what the Catalyst had said about it being the final stage of evolution, she knew no one was ready for that stage, and she couldn't be the one to force it upon them.
The only option was to destroy the Reapers, and she felt a sharp pain inside of her, a pain entirely unrelated to her grievous injuries, at the thought. EDI...EDI, I'm so sorry. Joker... She couldn't imagine what she would say to him. And after everything Legion had been through with her, the idea of dishonoring his memory by destroying his race almost made her sick.
But the Catalyst had given her a tiny ray of hope. Perhaps even one of the loopholes she loved so much. Her intentions. But how could she exploit that?
The commander looked out at the battle again. She was out of time to think about it. She couldn't allow any more lives to be lost while she deliberated. She walked toward the red lights, thinking frantically about what she wanted the Crucible to do. She hoped it would read that her intention was to destroy the Reapers, not all synthetic life.
Her first thought that she hoped would reach the Crucible was Not EDI. Please, for Joker's sake. Not EDI. For my sake too. She's my friend. She's so alive. Not EDI. Next, she thought of the Geth. She had never been able to fathom removing them from existence entirely, not once she'd met Legion, who had been the best of his kind...and who now lived on in every one of them. Does this unit have a soul? Yes. Legion had a soul, and so did the rest of the Geth. EDI had a soul. And I have a soul too. Partly synthetic, sure, I guess so, but I have a soul.
That was it. That was what she needed to communicate to the Crucible. That was her intention. As she dragged her feet onto the long platform and started to walk in the straight line to her goal, she thought as hard as she could at the giant conscious machine she was somehow inside of. Nothing with a soul needs to die. Or become nonfunctional, or whatever it is synthetic life does when it ceases to...be. Nothing with a soul. Just the Reapers, the soulless machines sent to kill every being that can think and create and love. Nothing with a soul.
The closer she got to the cables she would need to destroy, the faster she seemed to move, forgetting about the possibly fatal injuries she'd been trying so hard to ignore. As she raised her gun to fire, for one panicked second, all she could think was Not me, not me, please, not me, for Kaidan, not me, I promised him... But that was her only moment of weakness. By the time she fired her second shot, she was back to repeating her mantra in her head. Just the Reapers. Nothing with a soul. Just the Reapers...
Commander Shepard had a brief glimpse of an explosion, then a few moments of being surrounded by searing heat and blinding light. Then the darkness swallowed her, and she embraced it like an old friend.