Chapter 23: Epilogue: Apotheosis
There is very little of her left in the galaxy now. Once, she was a woman and a warrior. Now she is something else entirely. She knows this. These thoughts often course through her existence because something about them still troubles her. They are the lure of mortality calling to her through the remnants of that person that once she had been.
But she is no longer that person. She has been fractured through the lives of too many others, split into too many facets and pieces, so that now her sense of self and individuality and personhood has been rendered an archaic, almost naïve, notion from her past. She knows that the core of her personality came from somewhere, but it has been splintered and spliced into the DNA of every other thing in the galaxy. And now she is so far beyond recognition that she feels like a beam of light refracting through a crystal into a rainbow of shades.
But what she was…that Shepard part of her still lingers. Shepard is nothing more than a shade, a shadow, a ghost. A spectre. But one that still holds a kind of power that, sometimes, forces her new self to listen. To watch.
To remember that once she was human.
Somewhere, there is an elderly quarian, standing beside a magnificent house and looking out over a cliff. She is watching the stars awaken in her vision as Rannoch turns away to the night. She is important. The Shepard part of her whispers incessantly, commanding her to watch. This is important. Not to the galaxy, but to you. And the quarian female turns as another quarian approaches her—a son, Shepard realizes—carrying a small child in his arms that has only recently been brought into the galaxy. The older quarian takes the child, laughing as she holds the new creature with such love. Then, she turns and walks with the other back into the house where Shepard knows, as she knows everything, an entire retinue of 'Zorah vas Rannochs await within. Children and grandchildren and even a few great-grandchildren filling that house with love and laughter.
There is peace in this: in endings. There is peace for Tali here as she turns away from that cliff: that moment of dangerous but unrealized possibilities. And walks to the house: that moment of legacy.
Somewhere, there is an asari, still young by her peoples' standards, watching out the cockpit windows of a human vessel. The ship is flying through a nebula. The galaxy holds many pockets of these places where new life is born, where death is recycled into new stars and then new planets and then new life. Now, the being that was once Shepard knows them all. But the asari at the window has never been to a nebula before. Her bright blue eyes widen as the ship cuts through the clouds of primordial stars and she can see, for the first time, a massive space port. No, not just a space port. The Citadel. A new Citadel. Shepard can remember when she saw it for the first time as well. And, for a moment, she remembers what it was like to feel what she knows the asari is feeling. Tiersa. Her name is Tiersa. And she is mine, whether I asked for her or not.
Those feelings…those feelings are complicated, so instead she chooses to feel a glow of pride: this new Citadel was not some archeological find built by an ancient species, but created out of a newfound cooperation between all the galaxy's peoples. And she knows that Tiersa has come here to discover her destiny, just as Shepard once did.
"Tiersa T'soni? The Council is requesting your presence."
The voice comes over the comm. The young asari takes one last glance out of the window, takes one last deep breath. And she turns to walk back out to the ship's bridge.
"I'm ready," she says to the empty room.
There is peace in this: in beginnings. There is peace in being the star waiting at the edges of the nebula. Waiting to be born into blazing light.
Somewhere, there is a human, turian facial markings blue against her cheeks, as she presses the scope of a rifle against her face. Below her, the red condemnation of the laser sight dances across the helmet of a man, but he does not notice the red dot as he pulls a weeping salarian closer against his chest, pressing his pistol against her forehead. The sniper's partner is trying to distract the man, trying to talk him down, and Shepard can appreciate how, the instant the red dot appears on the man's forehead, the partner does not even blink. Shepard sees something familiar in the partner's face as well, something that reminds her of a friend she had to sacrifice once, long ago, in another life.
And then there is a shout.
The man pulls the gun away from the hostage's head and instead points it up, directly at the sniper who has, inexplicably, just stood up and given away her position.
But there is another as well. Three. Always three. Shepard can remember the perfect balance of three: the points of a triangle instinctively shifting in relation to each other, the implicit symmetry of the arrangement. The geth unit steps out from behind a crate, freezing both the man and his hostage in place as he coats their skin in blue biotic energy. The red dot freezes on the man's forehead. And Adrienna takes the shot.
Shepard can feel the shattering of the man's skull, DNA screaming against the dark pull of death that swiftly engulfs the man, carrying him away into eternity. A part of her goes with him. But Shepard remembers how she hated hostage situations and she is glad that the turian-faced human took the shot when she did.
The sniper climbs down from the building she was perched on, watching while her partner comforts the weeping hostage by simply reaching out and touching the pads of his fingers to the back of her wrist. The salarian nods: the unspoken binary exchange communicating more in a nanosecond than trying to explain verbally to the salarian that she is safe now. The geth walks over as well, but distances himself from the exchange, looking almost uncomfortable in how his head is tilted perpetually to the side.
Once the salarian has been safely handed off to a pair of medical personnel, the partner turns to the sniper, who is only now carefully replacing her rifle onto the back of her armor and nodding at the geth—an acknowledgement of a job well done.
"Alenko is just going to love hearing about that little stunt you pulled today, Vakarian," he says, grinning.
"Alright, Williams," she mutters back, trying her best not to match his grin. "I guess next time I'll let you save your own ass after you blow your cover. Alenko's not going to be too keen on hearing about that either."
"Rumour is that the Council is instating another batch of full-authorized SPECTREs next month," he says casually. "If we get the call, we won't have to worry about anything Alenko says anymore."
"This unit," the geth says, stepping forward, "has calculated that Kaidan Alenko's long history of service in the name of galactic peace enables him to predict the optimal course of action with seventy-three percent accuracy. Therefore, it is logical that his suggestions be taken under consideration."
"Gabriel's right," Adrienna says. "Alenko knows what he's doing. Besides, he's the one who forwards our names to the Council,"—she grins wickedly—"so that's at least another month of doing whatever he says."
"Seriously, Vakarian," Williams says, dropping his voice, "I wish you'd just be more careful."
The word holds a hidden dare. But he does not answer her question, instead turning away to walk back down the street. Adrienna and Gabriel exchange a look—a remnant of a previous conversation, perhaps, regarding the young man who is deliberately not looking in Adrienna's direction—and then both the human and the geth walk after him. Shepard watches as they walk down the street and she feels a pang of sadness because she once had this: the thrill of doing something right, the reassurance of having a team watching her back.
She realizes that she misses this part of mortality more than anything else: the ceaseless threat of losing it.
There is peace in this: in saving the galaxy, one mission at a time. This was where Shepard found her own kind of peace, long ago. And she knows that Adrienna, the daughter she never had, will as well.
Everywhere, there are others. A man and a machine, walking together hand-in-hand across a freshly-plowed field. An admiral, crossing his thick arms behind his head and leaning back in a desk chair that is too small for his bulk, as he contemplates what new nickname he will devise to torture the newest-appointed member of the security board. A krogan telling a story to the clusters of wide-eyed children sitting around the base of his throne: she hears him mention her name in his familiar, rumbling voice and the eyes of the little krogan all light up at its invocation.
All these moments happen at different times throughout history, but the part of her that is still Shepard makes note of them all. All these moments mean something to her.
But there is one that means more than all the others.
Somewhere, there is Garrus Vakarian, bleeding out onto the rubble and hoping that his last moments can give his daughters a chance to escape. And she is there. She is not ready to let him go. And she knows that he is not ready to go. The galaxy still needs saving. And so, when he stumbles for what should be the last time, she is there to catch him. She lifts him back onto his feet and gives him a command that she expects him to follow.
And then, someday, she finds him again. This time, he is ready to go. And she finds…she finds that she is finally ready to let him go. The galaxy will always need saving, but there are others now. Her legacy, and his, is that the galaxy will never want for protectors. And so this time, when he stumbles, she does not catch him.
She lets him fall.
When he pulls himself up onto his feet, he is standing in a field of stars that stretches out into infinity. The stars are whispering stories as they shine. Shepard can tell, by the confusion in his blue eyes, that Garrus recognizes the voices coming from the stars. Liara: soft and thoughtful. Jack: yelling a warcry. Thane: muttering a prayer. Mordin: muttering about seashells. Old times. Old memories. Old people. Words and light braided together into dreaming about their time of existence in the galaxy.
She walks through the stars towards him.
"Hey Vakarian!" she calls, a smile playing across her lips.
He hesitates, suddenly aware of what this means. He has been here before, of course. He remembers. She sees it in how his mandibles flick against the side of his jaw.
But he seems to realize that he does not need words. Shepard shines brighter than all the stars. He realizes that he is at her side again. And that he never has to leave her again.
"Come on," she says, wrapping her familiar hand around his arm. "You promised to buy me a drink."
And together they walk off into the stars.