A/N: This piece of Shenko indulges my current fascination with beetles and carries on some time after "Die Hard The Hunter".

Disclaimer: As always, Mass Effect is property of Bioware, and I'm not trying to make any money from this.

The flash of red and white in the corner of her eye made Shepard stop. She turned her head to the right, taking in the sea of green leaves and tendrils of the berry-bushes lining the garden path. Raspberries and blackberries ran up the trellises, strawberries carpeted the ground at the bases. Shepard looked up and down the path, then looked down to see what she was wearing—a white sundress, with a reddish hem and what looked like strawberry-stains splotching it. She was barefoot, the neatly-trimmed grass tickling her toes. Shepard stood on tiptoe, trying to see over the overgrown trellises, but couldn't see how far the garden stretched.

A faint chittering buzz made her look back down, to see a large beetle crawling on the leaf of a raspberry bush. The beetle had red and white markings, and a black hornlike projection that reached back from its head to its thorax. Shepard reached down toward the beetle, which took off on two large diaphanous wings and came to hover at eye-level with her and grew in size until it was as large as her head. The sun glinted off the beetle's eight eyes, orange flashes that made Shepard step back in surprise.

"What the?"

The beetle stayed in place, placidly observing her.

"Where am I?"

The beetle blinked again. "Does it matter, Shepard?" It moved back a bit, then landed on four large appendages and grew a bit more. The red and white had turned black now, and the beetle's appearance became more distinctly mechanical in shape. It stood there placidly, looking up at Shepard. "Need I remind you again that you won?"

Shepard's eyes narrowed. "That doesn't mean that we're friends all of a sudden," she snapped. She took another step back, and felt a horrible burning sensation. The berry-bushes rapidly withered away, leaves drying and darkening as the sunlight intensified. The grass turned yellow and died, eventually giving way to scorched earth. Shepard's skin rapidly went from pink to red, and she winced in pain when the burning intensified. The trellises smouldered and burst into flame, and Shepard started to run. Every inch of her exposed skin was on fire, and she searched frantically for some kind of shelter. Her dress finally caught fire, burning elastic and man-made fibers melting into her charring skin. Shepard screamed in agony and reached out in desperation to the only other thing still standing in the burning garden.

The Reaper reached back to her, one appendage glowing orange, and the world went black when it spoke to her in a very familiar voice.


Shepard sat up in bed, scream catching in her throat. The light came on, and Shepard started frantically feeling over her arms and shoulders and chest. A hand rested on her back, rubbing her softly.

"It's OK," Kaidan said quietly. "It was just a dream." Shepard looked at him and saw an expression of worry on his face. "It'll be OK," he said. "I'm here." Kaidan put his arms around Shepard and kissed her on top of her head. "Can you talk about it?" he whispered into her hair. "I'll listen, for as long as y—"

"Harbinger." Shepard muttered. "He…it…"

"…is dead," Kaidan said, reaching over to the side of the bed to toggle on the ceiling fan. "You made sure of that." He brushed a lock of hair back from Shepard's face. "Look at me," he said, and gently turned Shepard's face to him. "The Reapers are gone, you know that. These dreams that you're having, they're—"

"Another warning, Kaidan." Shepard slid to the edge of the bed by the window and stood up, when she heard a buzzing sound interrupted by the sharp thwock of something hitting the windowsill. The buzzing intensified slightly, and Shepard looked to see a seven-centimeter long beetle on the bed, trying to right itself. "They've got to be. The Reapers had a reason for what they did—If I had it to do all over again I'd still fight them tooth and nail…" She reached over and put her hand out, giving the beetle purchase so that it could get back on its feet. "But there had to be a reason they became Reapers in the first place." Kaidan reached to the nightstand and picked up a large paperback, intending to crush the insect with it, but stopped when Shepard put her free hand up. "No," she said. "Let's let him go. He's not hurting anything."

She let the beetle crawl up onto her arm, and raised her arm so that it was level with her face. It had striking red and white markings, and a black hornlike projection that reached back from its head to halfway over its thorax. It buzzed slightly while shaking its wings back into position, then settled on Shepard's arm as if to listen to the conversation. "When I was tracking the Collectors," Shepard said, "I helped Tali on the planet Haestrom—she said that its star was starting to break down thousands of years earlier than it should have, because of a buildup of dark energy. Then I ran into Gianna Parasini on Illium, and according to her there was a lot of new research going on into dark energy and stellar breakdown—apparently the NDC was concerned that it may wind up having some negative implications." She looked up at Kaidan. "I'm no scientist, Kaidan—but what if there was something to it?"

"Maddy, I—this goes way above our paygrade," Kaidan said. "Are you saying that all those people that were indoctrinated were being given a science project by the Reapers? Or that the Reapers were some ancient race's attempt to clean up some kind of big mess before it became a big mess?"

Shepard put her arm down against the windowsill, gently shooed the beetle onto the more stable platform, then got back into bed. She buried herself in Kaidan's embrace, and snapped her fingers to toggle the lights off. "I don't know, Kaidan. But don't you think it's worth looking into? Maybe Liara can dig up something."

They lay there for several long minutes, not saying anything. "OK," Kaidan finally whispered. "We'll send Liara a message in the morning." He looked down at her. "You really think this is connected to all these dreams you've been having?"

Shepard nodded. She began to nod off again, when she felt something like a somewhat scratchy comb running through her hair on the back of her head and a faint buzzing sound in her left ear. "Everyone's last hope, Shepard…" She turned her head and saw the beetle on the sill lazily taking flight into the darkness, its abdomen limned in dark purple and blinking flame-orange.