Chapter 33: Cogito Ergo Sum

"Commander Shepard, a word if you can?"

"Commander Shepard, hero of the Citadel, can you spare us a moment?"

"Oh please, Shepard, give us a juicy tabloid – we are dying to know what's happening!"

Surrounding the Alliance commander were a thousand bright lights, flashing and glittering at the newly awoken human. Omni-tools were thrust near him, each amplifying his voice so that they may get the perfect recording for their vids and news stories. Around him, C-Sec guards and officers held the mob at bay, giving the commander and his wife some space against the horde.

But still they demanded a story.

"Commander Shepard," one salarian said as he scanned his holo-pad, "is it not true that the Council is dead?"

Looking from the guards to his wife and then finally back to the salarian, Shepard sighed. "The rumours of the Council's demise are true, I will not lie. However, we do have a group of individuals who have stepped up to maintain galactic peace. These figures you know well as the human ambassador is none other than Joseph Godrick, a fellow officer who went with Hackett's Expeditionary Fleets to dark space. As well, former chancellor Shala'Raan will be the quarian ambassador. Even an old friend of mine, Urdnot Wrex, has taken time out of his schedule to sort out what has happened on the Citadel." A smile crossed Shepard's lips. "So you see, ladies and gentleman, we are in good hands."

The salarian seemed to get all that he wanted and nodded for Shepard to stop, unfortunately more answers were demanded. Others were not as polite. "So I heard that the Citadel's security was compromised and millions were killed. How can the innocent viewers at home feel safe on their next trip to the Citadel once it has been repaired?" asked a short nosed and wrinkled asari.

Shepard pursed his lips before speaking. "I think Captain Bailey, the new leader of C-Sec, will tell you how he is going to fix up security around here. I would say that the events that transpired were a combination of many errors that led to the unfortunate disaster—"

"But what about the geth?" It seemed the interruption by the human silenced everyone who was there. The poor human looked around shyly before repeating his question. "I've heard rumours that the geth were responsible for the attack with the help of the Viper gang, of course. If this is true, have the geth returned?"

Shepard was about to speak but was interrupted by his wife, Tali. "I think I can answer this question, Shepard." The human nodded his head and wrapped his arm around her, giving his support to her answer. "It is true the geth attacked, no more lies will be created to hide that truth. However, the citizens of the galaxy do not need to fear as the AI core that was created by quarian hands is now in our control—"

"But what about another uprising—"

"I'm not finished, reporter," she replied humorously. "No, the geth that were given sentience by the core were taught to kill and murder. It was their nature and we cannot fault them for what they were taught by the Vipers. Even now the quarians and the few geth that remain are working together to create a harmony between our people. Fear will not be the driving force in these talks. Instead, compassion will be our tool for diplomacy."

A few claps were sounded in the group of reporters and Shepard's arm gave her a reassuring squeeze. "Well done," he whispered to her.

"But what about Earth?" This question came from another human, only this time it was a female with long black hair tied into a pony tail. "Earth is still below, ruined and in constant threat of collapse. What will the galactic community do about this?"

Shepard thought and, with his eyes closed, he stated, "I can promise you that Earth will be restored as long as I am alive." A great silence fell over the area and when Shepard opened his eyes, he realized he needed to elaborate. "Already some of our Alliance scientists are finding ways to compensate for the Citadel's gravitational disturbance. Indeed, we already have methods of removing the radiation from the planet. It is only a matter of time before we can inhabit it once more."

The answer seemed to satisfy the reporter as numerous others swarmed in. How's Garrus, what is the plan for the Normandy, will you continue your Specter status? Numerous questions posed at both the human and his quarian wife. At the sound of another question, everything became still once more.

"If I may ask you a personal question, Commander," a young asari said with trepidation. "What exactly happened on the Crucible? I want to hear how the Hero of the Citadel saved us once more!"

But the answer she and every reporter received was not one that they had expected. "I am not the hero you seek." Mummers and whispers flooded through the crowd, many asking and questioning the same thing. Who was this 'hero'? "That title goes to a man named Marcus Tyson. If you are looking for someone to put in your article as to who saved us all, it was him and not me." A twinkling of mirth shone in his eyes. "A picture can be found of him on most Alliance military systems. You only need ask and you shall receive it."

More questions were launched again, this time wondering about the mysterious 'Marcus Tyson' but Shepard did not indulge them. "Now, my friends, I am afraid that's all the time I have for questions. If you would excuse me, I will be with my wife alone. It has been ten years since I last saw her, I think it is time we had some fun."

Shockingly, no one seemed to argue as the crowds dispersed and let Shepard and Tali leave to their quarters. In the back of the group was Garrus and Liara, holding each other and watching the display. With a smile he kissed the top of her head. "Do you think they'll be alright?" she asked, concerned.

Garrus grinned. "Oh, I think they'll be better than alright."

So there's my story. Apparently I became some big shot galactic hero: a sign of bravery and honour in the face of great adversity. Sometimes I hear people speak about me in the streets, telling stories of the Crucible and how I saved the Citadel with Shepard by my side. These people don't know what really happened. Bystanders never do. A story is told once, then changed when told again - a small price to pay for a good ol' yarn, I suppose, but it's still a hefty price. To this day it causes discomfort when my emotions are swept aside in these augmented tales; I become some god to these people who weave these fables. I'm no god, I'm just me: plain and human Marcus. I guess that's not good enough for people, is it?

I think I finally understand Shepard now…

But let's not dwell on that. Instead, let's consider the good my heroic acclaim generated. I bet you've seen that massive monument that is the centerpiece of the new memorial gardens on the Citadel. Bright velvet roses and deep cerulean orchids line the sides to this peaceful paradise. Two large rocks - one obsidian and the other alabaster – make up the centerpiece to this marvelous design. The names of those who died in the Reaper War on the ebony, the names of those who died in the Cataclysm on the ashen. People visit to utter their prayers and whisper goodbyes, a more somber affair yet threaded with hope. Such hope I had not seen in so many years.

Below that great metallic goliath and the hopeful people who reside within, Earth is being rebuilt slowly, as you are well aware. Though it's still impossible to live on more than three quarters of the planet, the Alliance leaders are committed to trying to restore our home world to its former glory. The once devastated buildings are being torn down for sweeping silver skyscrapers. Once mighty and magnificent human feats of engineering are being rebuilt with the help of one asari scientist: Liara T'Soni. Even as I speak plans are being made to create structures and devices that will purge the radiation hindering our habitation on the planet. I think the most impressive achievement from all this is that the galaxy is working together once again. Maybe this time it will last longer than ten years.

Well, I suppose that is all I have to say. It would be rude to not mention the drinks, so thanks. I guess my payment is the long-ass story. Getting this story off my chest has been therapeutic and, I imagine, a little entertaining for you as a bonus.

Before I go I might as well mention how I survived. I didn't. Oh, don't look at me like that! I can explain it perfectly. You see, when I fell from the Crucible, the air becoming thin and my mind becoming blank, I lost who I was. When I woke up, I was not the same person. Whether this is by my own doing or that apparition from before, I will never know. But what I do understand is that I existed. My past self didn't believe I could be anything but a shadow, hiding behind figures of grandeur for our race. In the end, I finally looked past that and found that I, indeed, existed. I could breath, taste, feel everything again. The galaxy unfurled itself before me. I saw the stars and gazed at their beauty. Like some doting child, I could not fathom the ethereal blackness above me and… I cried. Simple really, but most things are.

In a literal sense I did not die, that's for certain, but I won't tell you that little secret. That may drive a nail through your heart and cause to groan and moan, but I wouldn't be a good storyteller if I didn't get you to think, would I? Think about it again, maybe the answer will come to you.

Once you find this illusive answer, do not hesitate to find me. My room is two thirty-three B fifth floor. Just do me a favour and only visit after twelve in the morning, I have some… business with my dearest friend. I don't think she'll like the company.

Don't look so glum that the story is over, a new story always begins when another ends. Let us not wallow in the death and despair of the past and instead look onward to this glorious day of galactic peace and prosperity! How about we stay here and drink a little longer.

I'll buy the next round.

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end

The End - The Doors

Author's Note: Thus ends Mass Effect: A Deteriorating Antiphon. What a ride it has been for me. Beginning with a set goal and finishing it off exactly how I wanted to. Hopefully it was an engaging ride to everyone who has followed me and I must thank everyone who has done so. Your reviews, support, and patience has crafted this tale into something I'm deeply proud of. The words 'thank you' seem trivial, but I mean it honestly. This story may be over, but others will continue and begin. Once a story is told, it is never lost forever. It just takes a different form.