Disclaimer: Final Fantasy X is the property of Square Co., Ltd./Squaresoft, Inc., Square Electronic Arts, and Sony Computer Entertainment. Mass Effect is the property of Bioware, Microsoft Game Studios, and Electronic Arts. I am none of these, and as such make no money from this venture.
Suffocating to death was painful, though at least the chill of space helped to numb the agony. Still, Shepard's last coherent moments were practically peaceful as her body gave up and her mind drifted, staring at the stars and the remains of the Normandy around her.
It was rather an abrupt shock, then, to find herself waking again, gasping for air. Finding it, she struggled to calm herself, regulating her breathing and opening her eyes to take stock of her surroundings. When she finally got a good look around, she groaned and wondered if she wouldn't have been better off staying dead.
She was in the middle of what appeared to be a large, partially-submerged ruin. She shivered as the wind howled through the rocks and lightning flashed overhead. Looking down, she realised she was soaking wet, thankfully dressed in familiar black armour though her weapons were missing. Crawling up onto her little spit of land so that she was fully out of the water, she frantically checked for her omnitool. She breathed a sigh of relief as the familiar orange glow lit over her left arm. Idly, she felt for her comlink receiver, unsurprised to find it issuing nothing but static.
Turning back to her omnitool, she noticed parts of it seemed to be glitching. She was about to run a diagnostic when the wind whipped across her little island once more. Fingers shaking slightly, she instead worked at getting the area mapping program running. While it processed, she unclipped her helmet from her hard suit, cheeks pinking in the sharp wind. With only slightly clumsy fingers, she refit her oxygen tube. When her omnitool pinged, she relatched her helmet and routed the map display to her visor. She was relieved to see several larger islands nearby and steeled herself for the swim.
She made first for a larger island to the east, staggering up stone steps to find no real shelter aside from a few crumbling pillars. Bright marks on one of the pillars caught her eye and she passed her omnitool over the unfamiliar writing for a translation. When it yielded nothing but gibberish she sighed, hoping that if she met another being on this strange world they at least spoke something she could understand. As she turned to leave, her bearings on another island to the west, she saw the glint of metal from the base of the graffitied pillar. Reaching down, she saw it was a credit chip of some kind. Pocketing it to observe later, she resumed her quest for shelter from the brewing storm.
The western island was less sheltered than the eastern even, but she climbed up onto it for a relief from the drag of treading water in armour. Her omnitool beeped softly as she explored the meagre spit of land and she checked it to see that it had picked up on another piece of graffiti and was comparing the two in an attempt to crack what it apparently recognised as a cipher. Leaving the machine be, she moved to open a curiously intact wooden chest, pleasantly surprised to find two small packets of medigel in it. Although she wondered at their placement, she added them to her stock and set out north, heading for the last of the islands likely to have adequate shelter.
She was shivering again, the chill in the air seeping through the gaps in her armour as she carefully walked narrow, dangerous walkways. When she spotted a dark shape in the water below her and the stones she was on rumbled in warning, she didn't hesitate to sprint forward, leaping to the relative safety of a half-destroyed wall as the path she'd just been on crumbled into the cold waters. Sparing it little more than a glance, she turned to make her way inside the ruined building.
When she pushed through the fallen stones to the interior of the building, she found she had entered on the balcony level of a small colosseum. Out of the biting wind, she immediately began to warm up. Still, she spotted wood piled in the center of the arena floor and a fire would be welcome for more than just heat.
The crunch of gravel beneath her boots was muffled; the only sound aside from the steady rush of water coming from the waterfall she could see hitting the floor below. She grimaced and tried to step more carefully, wary of the crumbling masonry around her. There was another odd chest just to her right and opening it revealed an odd double pack of medigel. Resolving to look at it later, she stowed it and continued along the balcony towards the archway further along.
She found herself at the landing of a partially-ruined staircase. Strangely enough, there was a withered bouquet of flowers in a small alcove there. Rationalising that there was no such thing as too much fuel in a place like this, Shepard plucked the crisp stems from their vase and continued down the staircase. There was another chest at the bottom, and she peeked inside to find what looked at first glance to be more medigel. It didn't have the usual red tinge, however, nor was it the milky white of omnigel, being a pale blue instead. She tucked it away with the other odd package she'd found and continued on.
She peered cautiously around the arch to the arena floor. Taking in the piles of block and debris, she glanced at the partially-caved roof and decided to move the firewood to a more defensible location. Stalking as silently as possible, she scoured the room before cautiously opening a set of double doors near the stairs she'd descended. The vestibule would have been perfect to hole up in except for the steady stream of water falling from the ceiling, covering the floor with several inches of the ice-cold liquid. Still, the drawer of a water-logged desk yielded flint and she returned to the central room to begin her preparations.
She gathered the surprisingly dry logs and shifted them into one of the smaller niches delineated by fallen block. Taking another look around, she decided to risk the noise and fortified her position with some of the more manageable pieces of stone. That complete, she piled the logs according to regulation Alliance survival training, and tucked the dried flowers in and around as tinder. She fished out the metal chip she'd picked up outside, hoping it was enough like steel to spark on the flint.
The fire crackling, slowly warming her small corner of the colosseum, she rummaged in her ammo packs for the nutrient bars she kept stashed there. Finding one, she ate half and tucked the rest away. No telling when she'd be able to find fresh food. Somewhat filled, she found the warmth of the fire beginning to lull her to sleep. She tried to fight it but, exhausted, she fell asleep propped up In a life of strange happenings and a place of stranger ones, she didn't suppose she should have been surprised that she couldn't even sleep without dreaming something ridiculously weird.
Shepard found herself in her apartment on the Citadel, staring out over the Wards and the cloudy nebula beyond. Behind her, the hiss of her door signaled an intrusion into her quiet sanctuary. The reflection in the glass showed the impossible, so she turned, hands still clasped at parade rest as she took in the man standing there. A man she hadn't seen in over a decade. A man she'd been told was dead.
"You failed," he spoke dispassionately.
"What?" Shepard heard herself ask.
"On Virmire. You failed. You could have saved them both, but you didn't." There was a pause as the man stepped closer, eying the stiff Commander critically. "I'm not surprised."
She felt her face twist into a snarl but just as she launched herself at him, intent on taking her guilt out on his smugly arrogant face, everything went black.
Startled awake, it was only due to her experience sleeping in active war zones that she didn't jerk and kick the glowing embers of her fire. She was about to tease it back to flames when she heard the slithering. Scales on stone, it sounded like, and she was acutely aware that she was without her weapons. She edged away from the remains of her fire as silently as she could manage. Just in time, it seemed, because right as she slipped around the corner of her cozy niche a heavy weight crashed into the wall above her hideout. Shepard bolted, ducking between outcroppings and debris piles until she could get a better look at the... what the hell was that, even?
The creature was some sort of quadruped, lunging forward with a reptilian hiss and slashing with vicious-looking claws. She rolled under its attack, lashing out with both feet at the less-protected underbelly. The move shoved it away somewhat, but she hadn't compensated for its whip-like tail. The end of which suddenly wrapped around one of her ankles and tossed her into the opposite wall. Kinetic barrier crackling, she barely managed to dodge the follow-up strike. Struggling to pull air into her lungs, Shepard twisted to keep the creature in sight.
She began lobbing any rock small enough for her to lift at the thing, rolling away to both avoid its tail and claws and acquire new ammunition. She occasionally got a punch or kick in when it strayed close enough, but distance was as much of a weapon as she had right now. She was bracing for a strike she couldn't avoid, setting her body for a vicious counter, when the double doors she'd thought led only to a water-filled antechamber were blasted inward.
Using the newcomers' entrance as distraction, Shepard flipped over the block at her back and darted out of range of the creature. Peering around her cover, she was glad she had gotten out of the open when four of the five oddly-dressed humans now filling the doorway opened fire with what looked to her like old-model watched with raised eyebrows as the creature dissolved into gauzy fireflies that spiraled towards the crumbling roof before disappearing themselves. Turning back to her rescuers, she saw them peering back at her. The only one without a gun stepped forward and Shepard realised that it was also the only female. The strange girl pulled off her goggles, calling something out in a language the Commander's omnitool struggled to translate.
Moving cautiously, Shepard emerged from cover, hoping that if they decided to open fire that her kinetic barrier would hold long enough for her to get back into cover. They didn't, and she approached the group slowly. The girl said something again, prompting a quiet beeping from the omnitool, and Shepard understood it was the same language as the graffiti she'd seen outside in the ruins. When the Commander was just outside of arm's reach, the strange girl motioned for her to stop. Her tone turned demanding and, still not fully understanding, Shepard could only shrug in response. The girl sighed in exasperation and mimed removing an invisible helmet. With almost exaggerated slowness, Shepard reached for the latches on her hardsuit and tugged the offending piece of armour off.
When her face came into view, the four men with guns muttered between themselves. One darted forwards and raised his weapon. The girl shouted something the omnitool translated as a definite "No!" and reached out her hand. Though a part of her acknowledged this, Shepard's combat training also kicked in and before she could stop the impulse she was leaning back, twisting her hips and dropping her helmet to grasp the barrel of the strange-looking rifle with both hands. Two quick jerks, one up and the other towards her assailant, and his grip slackened. She flipped the weapon around, pulling back just before she chinned the guy with his own gun.
Immediately there were three more guns pointed at her and she sighed, presenting the gun to the girl with her fingers well away from the trigger, muttering, "Sorry, reflex."
The Commander's omnitool beeped softly, before a close approximation of her voice repeated, "Cunno, navmaq."
A look of surprise came over the girl's face, accompanied by four gasps from her companions, their weapons lowering in shock. Shepard shrugged again and set the gun she'd taken on the ground since no one seemed to want to relieve her of it. Retrieving her helmet, she tugged it back on and latched it. When the girl started to object, Shepard held up a hand and spoke clearly. "Wait. It'll auto-translate this way."
"Oh," came the faintly mechanised translation, "Well who are you, then? And what are you doing here?"
Before she could answer, the man she'd disarmed pulled out a wicked-looking knife and pointed at her, shouting "Fiend!"
Rather than grapple with him again, Shepard danced backwards, hands upraised to show she was unarmed. Avoiding the one with the knife, she called out answers to the questions the girl had asked. "I'm Commander Shepard of the Alliance navy. I'm sorry I can't tell you what I'm doing here, because I don't even know where here is."
Visibly irritated, one of the older men stepped forward and cuffed the knife-wielder across the back of his head. "Stop being an idiot. It's obvious she's no fiend."
While the two men argued and eventually started to wrestle on the cold stone floor, the two women met again near the door the strangers had arrived through. The short blonde girl frowned up at the black and grey faceplate she was presented with. "It's too bad you can't understand us without that on."
Shepard shrugged and the girl continued, brightening visibly. "Oh well! I'm Rikku. We're here looking for salvage to bring back Home."
Both 'Rikku' and 'home' came through her speakers untranslated, and Shepard understood they denoted proper nouns. Rikku cocked her head to the side as she thought of something. "Say... where are you from, anyway?"
Shepard eyed her warily, though there was no change in her posture to show as such to the girl. After a moment, she shrugged and tilted her head back, staring up at the cloudy sky through the holes in the ceiling. "Space, I guess. The stars," she elaborated as Rikku's eyes went wide. Shrugging again, she looked back down and sighed. "I have a place in Zakera on the Citadel though."
"Za...ker...and?" The word came back confused, almost mangled as Rikku's brow furrowed.
She was silent, looking over at her companions for a moment before grinning and slapping the Commander on the shoulder. "Well, it's okay! You can come with us! Maybe once we get back to land, you'll recognise someone or something and we can get you home!"
The girl skipped off, rounding up the men she'd come with and scolding them for fighting. Returning to Shepard, Rikku looped an arm through one armoured elbow and began to drag the Commander down the hallway. Since her options were to either stay and freeze waiting for a more familiar rescue or to follow and hope there was a spaceport somewhere on the planet, Shepard didn't object to the treatment except to extract her arm from Rikku's grip when they emerged from the ruins.
Once on board the strange ship waiting there - Rikku informed her matter-of-factly that it was named the Remora- she settled on the deck and removed her helmet once more. Tipping her head back to rest on the crates behind her, she savoured the winds on her face as they moved further out to sea. After some time, Rikku appeared at her side, squatting to even her height with the resting Commander.
One eye cracked open and the eyebrow above it, bisected by a faint scar, raised in silent question. The blonde girl giggled and held out what looked like a plastic filter. "We're above the treasure we came for. Will you help me get it?"
It took Shepard a moment to realise her omnitool wasn't needed to translate the speech and she turned to face her rescuer fully, both brows raised now. "You can speak Common? Why didn't you do so earlier?"
"Ah..." Rikku rubbed the back of her neck, eyes closed in embarrassment. "Dad doesn't like it as much, and Aniki - that's my brother, with the knife? - doesn't understand it that well. It was easier to speak Al Bhed at the time."
Before she could respond, Rikku jumped up and back. "You... you're not an al bhed-hater, are you?"
Shepard stood as well, shaking her head. "No, I don't even know what an al bhed is. You look human to me."
Shepard donned her helmet, walking to the railing to peer over the side into the black sea. Rikku joined her after a moment. "We're going down there?" the Commander questioned.
Gaining affirmation, she sighed. "Do you have a weapon I could borrow? I don't think my fists will be that effective against anything trying to eat us."
Laughing, Rikku nodded and skipped off. When she returned, she was juggling what looked like a pistol and two blades, and being followed by the man she'd identified earlier as being her brother. He was ranting quietly about arming enemies, but both women ignored him in favour of the weaponry. Taking the pistol, Shepard checked its sight out over the bow before reflexively attaching it to her hip. Thankfully, though it didn't collapse the way she was used to, the magnetic clips on her armour held the gun in place.
The blades, each the size of her forearm, were painted red. Each had a half-circle guard and Rikku demonstrated how they could be clipped together to form either one double-wide or two vicious parallel blades. After a moment's thought, Shepard clipped them to her armour at the base of her spine where she normally kept her shotgun. Testing the draw a few times, she nodded to herself before gesturing to Rikku to proceed her into the water. Giving a scowling Aniki a mocking wave, she dove after the young al bhed.
The water was cold and dark, as expected, so Shepard was grateful to find her suit's night vision still functional. Following the Remora's anchor chain, they found themselves fighting off aggressive objectors to their presence until they reached an open hatch in the side of the sunken hulk they'd come for. The Commander was surprised to find some electronics still working inside and, after a gestured conversation, managed to use her omnitool to hack open the next doorway. Rikku took the lead again, pushing further into the bowels of the sunken ship. After dispatching a few more examples of overly vicious marine life, the blonde began repairing what Shepard soon realised was a power core. The lack of visible eezo use worried her, but she was soon distracted by the appearance of a much larger problem.
Swimming was not quite like space walking, but there were similarities. Drawing her borrowed daggers, Shepard dove and made to get beneath the half-squid, half-snail monstrosity they found themselves facing. Rikku made a familiar gesture and Shepard braced for the explosion. Pushing off the floor in the aftermath, she buried one blade in the soft underbelly before being tossed away by a tentacle. The al bhed threw another grenade, dodging the fiend's reaching limbs. Before the fire had cleared, the Commander had used the wall to thrust herself back into melee range and sheathed her second blade deep in the creature's eye. Screaming and flailing, it dissolved into the same ethereal wisps as everything else they'd killed, and Shepard made a note to ask what they were when they'd surfaced.
After checking a few more rooms to make sure the newly-restored power was routing properly, Rikku gave a grinning thumbs up and led the way back out of the maze of corridors and up out of a sea now lit by the searchlights dotting the hull of the wreck.
Back aboard the Remora, Shepard once more settled against the crates she'd commandeered previously. She removed her helmet to enjoy the salt breeze and thumbed off her omnitool's translation of Aniki demanding the return of their weapons. He could come get them himself if he was so eager. She watched from the corner of her eye as Rikku dragged her disgruntled brother off into the bowels of the ship. Sighing heavily as they disappeared from sight, Shepard tried not to think about her own crew or the fact that her last memory was of the Normandy in pieces as she was ejected from its burning shell.
Her painful reminiscence was interrupted by a tray of food appearing nearly in her lap. Glancing up at the blonde girl grinning back, she nodded her thanks and began to eat slowly, savoring the foreign foods. Rikku watched her for a short time before wandering over to the closest railing. Tracking her progress with her eyes, Shepard waited patiently for the girl to say what was on her mind.
When she did, the words came out rushed and jumbled. "You say... you lived in Zanarkand?"
The Commander wasn't sure she'd heard right, but she nodded slowly, setting the remains of the dinner aside to give the conversation her full attention. Rikku's brow furrowed for a moment and she whirled about to face the water. After a moment, Shepard joined her at the railing. "Something the matter?"
The blonde bit her lip, glancing up with blazing green eyes. "It's just... that place... it was destroyed over a thousand years ago by Sin's attack."
Shepard nearly choked on air. "A thousand years?"
"Yeah," Rikku nodded, mouth twisted into a frown.
They were quiet for some time, each lost in their own worlds. Perhaps the Reapers had prevailed and the survivors had named them Sin in the manner of primitive cultures giving name to what they felt was justified punishment from the gods? Shepard shook her head, returning to her half-finished meal. Rikku watched her from the rail.
"Look," the al bhed began quietly. "Um, it's not that I don't believe you, but I think you had some contact with Sin-"
Shepard snorted inelegantly. If Sin was a Reaper, she'd had more than somecontact with the bastards looked startled at the interruption, but continued. "They say your head goes funny when Sin is near."
Shepard managed to contain her morbid amusement this time, but it was a close thing. The girl looked thoughtful as she completed her idea, "Maybe you just had some sort of dream? About... that place?"
"It's possible," she shrugged one armoured shoulder, revealing her doubt.
Rikku pouted and nearly stomped back over to the crates, squatting down to poke that same shoulder. "Look, you said you were a soldier, right? In the navy? Well you should go to Bevelle. Maybe one of the Crusaders would know who you are, or you might might find someone you recognise."The Commander watched her solemnly for a moment, before quirking her brow. "And where, exactly, is Bevelle?"
Rikku's face fell and she groaned in frustration, standing and pacing in agitation. She brightened after a moment, pointing a dramatic finger at the still seated woman. "I know! I'll get you to Bevelle, I promise."
Receiving only that same raised brow in response, she huffed. "You'd rather stay here?"
Shepard looked out over the sea before sighing and giving a minute shake of her head. Rikku nodded and turned back towards the ship's interior. "Okay, wait right here. I'll go tell the others."
Halfway there she spun again, twisting her fingers nervously. "Oh... you shouldn't tell people where you're from. Yevon says that's a holy place."
She bit her lip before forcing out the rest of her warning. "Don't... don't tell anyone you can understand Al Bhed, either, okay? Not everyone likes us, and I don't want you to get in trouble over something like that, alright?"
At Shepard's nod, she whirled again and the door hissed shut behind her. Chaos erupted almost Remora rocked violently with the waves as something surged in the deep. Shepard snatched up her helmet and donned it before drawing the pistol she'd borrowed. Warily aiming it at the water, she struggled to keep her footing as she heard Rikku burst back out on deck followed closely by the others.
Shepard twisted, one hand waving for them to get back, and in that moment the beast struck. It slammed hard into the port side of the ship, tossing everyone hard into the starboard rail. The last thing the Commander saw as she was thrown overboard was Rikku reaching for her, horror on her face and her brother holding her back. Shutting her eyes against the painful memory the vision dragged forth, Shepard disappeared beneath the waves.