Night on Thessia.
An asari emerged from her house, gliding out onto a broad deck that looked out across her land. Even in darkness she moved confidently, avoiding obstacles with the ease of long practice, until she stood by the outer railing. There she spent long minutes looking up at the stars.
If anyone else had been close by, they would have seen a slender asari matron of average height, wrapped in a dignified full-length gown of twilight blue. The starlight shone on her face, almost bare of markings aside from a spray of indigo freckles across her cheeks and a matched pair of thin arcs above her eyes. Another asari would have judged her features attractive enough, capable of gamine charm or naïve curiosity, but too cool and delicate for the canons of true beauty.
As it happened, no one else was close by. The household staff, the armed acolytes keeping watch over the perimeter, all of them knew better than to interrupt the matron's evening ritual. Whenever she was at home and the night was clear, she always ventured out onto the deck for a time to gaze up at the stars, as if searching for something she had lost. She had been doing it for centuries.
She was five hundred years old, almost to the day, and she was alone.
Her ritual drew to a close. She breathed a soft sigh, barely audible over the distant sound of surf. If her eyes glimmered more than usual in the starlight, no one was there to see.
"They've forgotten," she murmured at last, breaking her silence. "I suppose I shall have to remind them."
Then she turned and went back into the house.
Indoors, she moved through night-dimmed hallways until she reached her office. There she turned up the desk lamp and sat down . . . but then she paused, as if reluctant to begin a task. Instead she reached out and picked up a small item: an arm-ring of polished obsidian, beautiful in its simple perfection. She held the ring for several minutes, turning it slowly in her fingers, before setting it back down with a decisive click.
A wave of her hand opened a holographic console on the desk. Her fingers poised over the hard light for a moment, and then descended.
"We are doomed to lose the past . . ." she murmured as she began.
We are doomed to lose the past.
In every culture memory becomes history, then legend, and finally myth. Even our advanced civilization is not immune. Those who experienced an event forget, and eventually die. Records are misinterpreted, misfiled, discarded, lost, or destroyed. Over time the most concrete truths always fade away, leaving us to sift through scraps of ambiguous evidence.
It has been almost four hundred years since the end of the great war with the Reapers. That's more than long enough for the clarity of memory to fade, even for the most long-lived Citadel races.
So it has been with Shepard.
The bare facts of William Shepard's life are not in dispute.
His parents were David Shepard, an agricultural geneticist, and Adrienne Favreau, a virtual-intelligence designer, both citizens of the United North American States on Earth. William Shepard was born in the city of Toronto in 2154 CE.
Humanity collided with galactic civilization for the first time when Shepard was still a small child, fighting the brief but bloody First Contact War with the turians. After the war, humans gained access to dozens of new worlds for colonization. David Shepard was one among millions who took part in the great migration, bringing his wife and son to settle on the frontier world of Mindoir in 2159 CE. There the Shepards prospered until the vicious batarian raid of 2170 CE, after which young William was the only survivor from his family.
The experience of Mindoir led Shepard to enlist in the Systems Alliance military. He served with distinction as a Marine. His actions during the Skyllian Blitz earned him the Star of Terra and a commission. He was accepted into the prestigious Interplanetary Combatives Training school, graduating with the highest (N7) level of proficiency. By 2183 CE he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In that year he was assigned as the first Executive Officer of the experimental stealth frigate SSV Normandy, helping to command her on her shakedown cruise.
On that cruise he discovered the existence and imminent threat of the Reapers. Over the next three years he managed to delay their invasion of the galaxy three times. When they finally did invade, he succeeded in unifying the galaxy against the overwhelming threat. In the final Battle of Earth, he led the assault against the Reapers.
At the height of the battle, he vanished without a trace. Minutes later, the war was resolved and our civilization was saved. A cycle of genocide and extinction that had been underway for over five billion years was finally brought to an end.
Although Shepard has been credited with the victory, the truth is that the galaxy at large doesn't know what became of him. Officially no one knows precisely how our salvation was achieved, or even whether Shepard had anything to do with it.
Today, the irony is that William Shepard has been almost forgotten. To trillions of sentient beings he is simply "the Shepard," a legendary hero of the distant past. In the current time of crisis, with yet another existential threat looming over us, his name has become one to conjure with. A few have even elevated him to godhood, a divinity in human form to be revered and called upon to ward off the onrushing darkness.
Goddess, he would have hated that.
It is at once the blessing and the curse of the asari people, that we never forget the ones with whom we have shared a grand passion. Shepard was my comrade-in-arms, my best friend, my ardent lover, my first and most cherished bondmate. To this day I remember him with perfect clarity, as if he had only gone on a short journey and could be expected to return at any time.
He was an exceptional human, with physical, mental, and moral capabilities all well above the norm for his people. He had a gift for being in the right place at the right time, ready to snatch victory from the jaws of disaster. He could persuade and lead others to excel, beyond anything they might have dreamed possible for themselves. His areté, his inherent virtue, ran deep and strong.
To be sure, he was not perfect. Much of his success can be attributed to sheer good luck. He made mistakes, he was sometimes foolish, he was often uncertain, he was afraid, he suffered, he bled, and he died. A god he most certainly was not. Yet we asari know well how to recognize the spark of divinity that comes, once in a great while, to reside in mortal flesh. Shepard had that spark in abundant measure.
We need that spark again, possibly even more than in the days when Shepard walked among us as a living man.
This is my story of the war against the Reapers. Even more, it's the story of the three years, three months, and twenty-eight days that I knew, loved, and fought at the side of William Shepard. Not the legendary hero, not the incipient god, but the man . . . mortal and glorious and beloved.
I've never told this story before. Some things have been too hard to put into words for the whole galaxy to read. Yet it seems that I must try. I suppose I've come to realize that the story doesn't belong only to me.
Perhaps it belongs to all of us, especially now when we need it most.
- Liara T'Soni, A Memoir of the Reaper Invasion, published 2580 CE (Cosmopolitan English translation)