Bill Here! Happy New Year everybody! I don't know about you, but I am glad to be in the new year. Spring is good, oh so very good. Anyway, this chapter has a bunch of plot related arc points, consisting of both flashbacks and shamelessly ambiguous foreshadowing. Enjoy!
A piece of metal arched over the length of the smooth floor that lined the cargo bay. It hit the ground, sliding across it towards a bar standing upright at the end of floor panel. The curved piece of metal hit the bar gently, tapping it with a slight clink.
"So you're telling me that you convinced a Batarian that you were the patriarch?" Kaidan asked, stepping back from his throw.
Garrus stepped forward for his turn.
"Well, it wasn't exactly easy, but it was much simpler than one might believe," Garrus explained. He threw a piece of metal across the cargo bay. It flew all the way across the room until it hit the pole at the end, spinning around beautifully before it came to rest at the bottom.
"What? Was I not supposed to do that? I'm not really good at these human games," Garrus said, trying to make an excuse.
"It's fine. Have you noticed anything different about Shepard?" Kaidan asked.
Garrus' mandibles twitched slightly in way that would've bothered Kaidan if he wasn't used to Turians.
Perhaps. He has been less prone to making jokes than he usually is," Garrus commented.
As if on cue, Shepard walked out of the engine room into the engineering bay.
"You two, suit up: we've got somewhere we need to be," he said bluntly.
"What's the mission, sir?" Kaidan asked stiffly.
"No mission this time," Shepard answered, turning his back.
"Wait, what? What do you mean there's no mission?" Kaidan asked.
"We're going to a service memorial for Admiral Kahoku down on Elysium. Put on your gear, minimum firearm detail, but look formal," Shepard said solemnly.
With that, he turned back away and left, looking at a datapad as the elevator closed.
Kaidan sighed once more, much heavier than before.
"Well that explains it, I guess."
The Normandy landed on the planet of Elysium. Since the Skylian Blitz, the settlements there had prospered greatly; the buildings were rebuilt, expanded, and polished to a shine. Everything sparkled like a lost city of silver, something that clashed completely with the view Shepard had witnessed so many years ago.
He stepped down from the steps of the dock, breathing deeply as the air filled his lungs. He closed his eyes, letting the nostalgia settle in.
"Welcome back, Commander."
Shepard turned in the direction of the voice. It was a group of people greeting him with a few familiar faces at the front. Shepard stepped forward to shake Anderson's hand.
"Good to see you," Shepard said. Nothing was closer to the truth; Shepard was deeply troubled by the events on Edulos, the death of Kohaku, and the contents on the data chip he found. He sought Anderson's council greatly, more than he had in quite a long time. About as much as I did that last time I was on this planet, Shepard thought.
"We'll have time to talk. First, we need to get you patched up. You look like crap, Blake," Anderson said. His voice lowered at the latter sentence, leaning closer to say it just between the two of them.
"As long as the Hero of Elysium is in here, he is free to whatever he needs."
Shepard turned to shake hands with an elderly man in his sixties, his bald head shiny, shimmering white from the reflection of the buildings. Blake recognized the man as one of the leaders in the restoration of Elysium after the Skylian Blitz. The man beamed, the smile on his face was almost ready to pop off and kiss Shepard on the mouth.
"Edger Allen, we meet again," Shepard spoke, his left hand reaching out to shake.
The man hesitated, pulling back his right hand as he realized it was the wrong one to shake with. He clasped Shepard's left hand, his other coming to grab it tightly.
"It's good to see you again, son. It's been too long."
A shorter, sheepish looking man came closer, a camera floating nearby.
"Mind if I get a shot with you and Mayor Allen?"
Shepard nodded, posing accordingly. The flash was light, to his relief; his eyes were tired and still very sensitive.
"We've got a dynamite recovery center you can stay until you've rested. How is the shoulder, by the way?" Edger asked.
Shepard looked down at the sling his arm rested in. He recalled the length of time spent in the medical bay, resetting the bones and sealing the wounds. He grimaced.
"Well that just means you get to stay longer. The doctors over at Archer regional will get you healed. Plus the lower gravity is supposed to be good for the body."
Shepard nodded, grinning slightly. He began walking with Edger in the direction of the city.
"So, Mayor?" Shepard said finally.
"Yep. I worked so hard on the rebuild, everyone decided that I was the one who should be in charge. Go figure, huh?"
"I don't know anyone else who deserves it more, Ed," Shepard said warmly.
The two walked in silence for a moment.
"The funeral is in three days. It'll be here, in the town square, a standard service for an admiral of Kohaku's rank," the mayor said.
"Good to know," Shepard nodded.
"I'll see you there, hopefully with two working wings, huh?"
"What do you mean you have to operate? Can't you just patch it up, close the wound, and give me a goddam lollipop!?"
"With a wound like that, the structural functionality of your shoulder at risk. You could end up losing movement in it if even one tendon or nerve was reset improperly."
A tall, dark haired male doctor chastised Shepard as he sat on the hospital bed shirtless.
"But Chakwas already reset everything!" Shepard protested.
"I reset your bones, dear; your tendons are another story. The equipment they have is much more precise than anything on the Normandy. Even Dr. Pearson here is much more qualified to find any mistakes I may have made," Chakwas explained.
"Though I wouldn't disregard your contribution, the simple fact you were able to reassemble his bones to the point where they've been damaged is genius," said Pearson.
"Oh please, it was just a matter of cataloging the density of each piece of bone to match to its respective place. The rest was just an organic jigsaw puzzle," answered Chakwas.
"You know, I could use an extra set of hands, especially ones as nimble as yours," Pearson said slyly.
"When you say it like that, what choice do I have? I suppose it will take all night to review the data of the results, considering the work load?" Chakwas asked, equally as cunning.
"And possibly the morning," Pearson added.
Shepard snapped his left hand.
"Hey, you two, we have other things to think about!"
"Alright, now lie back and let the sedatives take effect."
Shepard laid back on the operating table, his breath fogging up the inside of the mask filling his nostrils with a tranquilizer.
"Now, I want you to do me a favor. Can you do something for me?"
Shepard nodded, his head feeling like it was filled with a viscose liquid as it sloshed around. His ears buzzed pleasantly.
"Can you count backwards from ten? Just go ahead and do that for me, please."
Here goes nothing.
Shepard's ears hummed like a motor.
His head felt like ocean waves, advancing, receding, circular in motion.
The ocean waves crashed against the rocks, sea foam spraying everywhere.
The waves rolled like wheels, almost perfectly spherical in shape.
The sea rushed onto the land, only to retreat back to its source.
Shepard felt the water embrace him, the smell of salt and sea filling his nostrils as the waves took him.
The sea led him out into the ocean, gently guiding him to a direction of its choosing.
He floated for what seemed like an eternity, quite content to float comfortably on top of the waves with the sun warming his face.
He looked up to the sky, the blazing golden sun floating down to meet him.
Shepard met the stare of the sun, its visage of a handsome lion like deity with flowing golden hair.
The mouth of the sun opened, mouthing one word, spoken like whisper.
Shepard sunk down into the sea, the cold water overtaking his body as he fell back into the darkness.
Blake charged forward.
The raider opened fire upon seeing him. Blake hopped to right, and then left, dodging the bursts of gunfire the raider's weapon let loose before the distance was closed. He threw his arm forward, slashing viciously in a bloody arc across the raider's face. The raider collapsed, blood now oozing out from the top of the corpse as it lay on the ground.
Blake took a deep breathe. Goddam mess out here, he mused, checking his surroundings.
The ruins of Elysium's city were strikingly similar to the slums he was raised in, albeit the newer condition of the rubble and the presence of so many Batarian raiders. The sky was the same though, the bleak, grey horizon checkered by trails of smoke rising in the distance. The land was filled with empty shells that were once buildings, now fractured husks only a strong gust of wind away from collapse.
Blake knelt down to remove the contents of the raider person, finding a sizeable amount of medigel tucked in his pockets along with a pair of proximity grenades.
A sound from behind perked Blake's ear, his hand quickly moving to the shotgun strapped to his back. By the time he heard it again his body was up and brandishing the barrel at the distant figure. It stood in the entrance of the alley, the lights of the outer area outshining the face leaving a sinister black contour. Blake's fingers tensed around his gun.
"Thunder!" he shouted stepping forward.
"L-Lightning!" replied the figure. The figure's hands shot up, palms open and easily seen, rifle clattering to the floor. From the voice, he could tell that the figure was human, male, and young for a solider.
"Step forward, out of the light!" Blake demanded.
The shape stepped forward, revealing the young boy in question. The uniform he wore was tattered, blackened in some places, but definitely Alliance issued. The boy's face was haggard, brow caked with a mixture of dirt and sweat, his sandy brown hair stained murky from gun smoke and artillery soot. The boy stood awkwardly stiff and Blake could see the fear in his eyes as clear as day.
"What's your name, kid?" Blake asked, lowering his weapon.
"A-A-Atwood, Carl Atwood," the boy stuttered.
"You hurt Carl?"
"N-no, I'm fine, just some scrapes and bruises, but I'll live," Carl answered.
"I wish I could say the rest about the city," he ruminated grimly. He made a gesture to follow, and Carl quickly picked up the rifle he had previously discarded and followed. The two made their way through the mazelike alleyway, seeking passage through the carnal warfare.
As they made their way, they came upon another group of Batarian raiders.
Blake quickly slid to cover, his footsteps so muffled they seemed spectral. Carl fell in behind him, nervously sticking to Blake's back.
The three raiders were idle, inexplicably relaxing within a warzone area.
"Atwood, you any good with that rifle?" Blake whispered.
Carl nodded timidly.
"Good, you cover me while I move in. I'll try to take them by surprise, keep them from contacting their superiors," Blake instructed. He was about to make his move when another raider came running up to the group, yelling orders. The other three stopped what they were doing, quickly making their way to the vehicle that corresponded to them.
"Shit, come on!" Blake whispered loudly.
He removed the grenades from his bandoleer, moving forward and slinging them in an arc. The two orbs made a parabolic trail, one hitting the open hatch door of the vehicle and bouncing inside. The other grenade knocked one of the raiders on the side of the head.
The explosion threw the two raiders still outside the tank off their feet. Blake and Carl charged, letting loose their firearms. Carl pumped round after round into the concussed raiders while Blake's shotgun barked out blows, piercing armor and flesh like moist cardboard.
The high ranking raider turned to fire off his sidearm, but Blake caught him in the right thigh, crippling the poor bastard before he could unholster his weapon. He laid on the ground, his body bleeding and frail as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. Before he knew it, he had a boot on his chest, pinning him back to the ground with a great force.
"Where are the others?" came a harsh voice with a tone darker than the raider thought was possible.
"W-What?" the he sputtered out, blood mixing with his saliva as it leaked out of the side of his mouth.
"Your orders. You were going to hit some Alliance soldiers. Where are they?" the voice spoke demanded once more.
The force of the impact impaired the raider's sight, leaving only a crude image of a black figure standing over him. Everything was a blur.
Everything but the eyes.
What the raider saw was not a man, no, not the human he had hunted across the galaxy, innocent and frail, easy to round up and sell into slavery for a quick profit, easy to intimidate into backing down just by a simple show of force, easy to gun down in the back as they fled for their lives. No, this was definitely something else, something more.
"Where are they?" the voice beckoned, teeth snarling, grip tightening, muscles becoming taut and veiny. The raider's mouth opened, but all that came out was babble.
He raised his left arm, which was still relatively undamaged, activating his omni tool and displaying the map of the area along with the other battle plans of the raiders.
The eyes of the human left the raider's face, the weight of its gaze lifting off of him, gliding over to the omni tool data. The human scanned it, removing the information from the omni tool and adding it to its own collection.
Once more, the eyes glided back over the raider, bearing down on him.
"Thanks," the human sneered.
The raider heard a click, then a bang.
Blake took his foot off the carcass of the raider, turning back towards Carl.
"W-was that entirely necessary?" Carl asked.
"Is this war entirely necessary?" Blake countered.
With that, Carl was silent, as Blake made his way to the tank. He looked it over, thinking deeply.
"Hey Carl, do have any experience driving a vehicle this big?" he asked.
Carl looked up, confused.
"I once drove my dad's work shuttle without his permission when I was sixteen, but I crashed it," he supplied.
"Works for me."
Captain Archer was pinned down on all sides.
In theory, her strategy was sound; the placement of her men and equipment around the perimeter maximized their fighting force, the method of execution she and her crew used was effectively carried out, as well as her perception and assessment of the situation being clear and concise, but the bottom line was that she was completely out matched. The men in Archer's unit were being slaughtered by the raiders' superior firepower and equipment, not to mention their overwhelming numbers racking up sixteen casualties so far.
"Get some heavy weaponry on that artillery!" she shouted over the booming of fire and death.
"What heavy weaponry? My freakin' Mattock!?" exclaimed her second lieutenant.
The lieutenant's head was ripped open, his helmet pierced like an aluminum can, the contents sprayed on the wall behind him.
"Merchant, Sniper!" Archer shouted out, across the distance to a nearby building.
Simon Merchant scanned the surroundings for the bogey, keeping his peripherals open as opposed to fixated in one place. His eyes spotted a glint as the passed over the area, circling back to that spot. Sure enough, the four eyed sharpshooter that was squatted down beside some rubble stuck his head out to pick another target just in time for Simon to paint the stone behind him crimson.
"Another one bites the dust," Simon mused aloud. He was interrupted by the thunderous approach of one the raiders' Atlas'.
The mechanized titan rumbled towards the remaining soldiers hunkered down in the compound building. The debris and local structures reverberated the force of the impact as it made its way towards the soldiers.
The team opened fire, more out of panic than actual intention as the basic firearms did little more than annoy the mechanical beast. It swung out its turrets, lining up the shot and fired, sending a round into the building's trunk.
Archer felt the ground give way as the building crumpled beneath the team's feet. She fell, the rubble following her as it seemed to seal the cover of her newly fashioned tomb.
When she came to, she was face to face with the familiar expression of Argo, the demolition specialist that was recruited into her makeshift unit. He lifted several pieces of rubble off of her, reaching out and pulling her gently back up to her feet. Wiping the blur from her eyes and the blood from the cut above her brow, she looked at the disaster that was formerly her unit.
"Shit," Archer muttered lucidly, recognizing the dead faces of the corpses pinned under the ruins. She looked back at Argo, who was breathing heavily.
"What happened to the Atlas?" she asked.
Argo pointed over to where the Atlas lay, now a smoking pile of wreckage crashed into another building. She looked at the crash site with awe, her mouth agape amazement.
"Y-you did that?" she asked.
Argo shook his head.
"No, not me. Those two over there."
Archer looked over to see two figures, both bent over the corpses of raiders, going from body to body collecting gear.
"Crashed a tank into the legs of the Atlas right about the time it leveled the building. They came out of nowhere," Argo pointed out.
Nowhere is an understatement, Archer thought, her mind beginning to clear. She made her way over to her two saviors, intent on seeing just who it was that kept her from dying this time.
"I don't suppose you boys are from HQ?" she opened with.
"Not really, sir. Private Carl Atwood, reporting for duty," grinned one soldier, rubbing the back of his neck timidly, the youth in his voice almost too apparent.
Archer smiled curtly at the young soldier that had acknowledged her. She expected the second soldier to do the same, but he didn't. Instead, he simply kept fishing the pockets of dead Batarians, apparently more concerned with finding supplies.
"Soldier?" Archer inquired.
The figure went still, before slowly rising, his back still pointed at Archer.
"The last time I heard from HQ, they stuck me on this crap post, and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, this shit happened," the figure answered.
"Well, whatever happens now, we need to stick together," Archer stated.
The figure turned slowly around, revealing the face of a young man, much like the other soldier, but completely devoid of the naivety. This soldier was hardened, his face much more withered, the wrinkles and creases on his cheeks showing a fairly large about of grimacing, his mouth much more prone to forming a snarl. The eyes of this soldier were black, hollow, simply rings, much like the eyes of a shark, the eye sockets darkened and intense. They gave Archer a strangely nostalgic feeling for some reason.
"Who the hell put you in charge?" the soldier spat out.
Archer cocked her head to the side, the part of her brain connected with anger initiating once more.
"I am Alliance Captain Sandra Archer, and as Captain, I possess the right to recruit stray members of the Alliance military during martial law," Archer stated proudly.
The soldier snickered mockingly before speaking.
"I don't care how those assholes dressed you up, there is no way I'm risking my life following the lead of some bitch I barely know."
The blood rushed to Archer's face, turning it an angry crimson color that emanated heat from her pores like smokestacks. She stomped forward crossly, but Argo was one step ahead of her.
"We can sit here arguing about who will be in charge until the raiders hunt us down, or we can flee and find shelter to rest under for the night," spoke the gruff bear of a man, his large body separating each combatant far enough to keep them out of reach.
A lanky man with a sniper rifle came jogging up to the group, sliding to a stop on the loose stone rubble. He breathed heavily before speaking.
"Skipper, we got back up, coming in fast," Simon warned gravely.
"Too fast for us to run?" Archer asked.
Simon nodded profusely, his hands on his knees as he caught his breath.
"Shit, ok here's the plan: Argo and Carl, take shelter in that mess over there and provide covering fire on my mark, Simon, find a perch and build a nest, try to take the officers out first. Me and wonder boy over here will draw their fire. Unless of course you have a better idea, wonder boy?"
"My name is Blake," the soldier said simply.
"Yeah, well try to keep up, Blake," she said sardonically.
Archer pointed out orders and the team took their positions. The backup raiders arrived moments after they split up, riding small shuttle vehicle for small groups of personnel. They assessed the surrounding area quickly before dismounting; making their way to the rubble that was once Archer's temporary base of operations.
Archer made her move among the debris that now served as cover, Blake following her lead. They knelt down next to a large shard of flat building that might have been a wall, which temporarily separated them from the group of raiders.
Archer counted down with her fingers.
Both Archer and Blake circled the wall, closing the distance between themselves and the raiders.
Archer stepped forward, her hand reaching up, gripping the Batarian's head and pulling back while she thrust the blade of her knife up and out of his throat. There was a sound of air escaping the vocal cords tinged with the moisture of fresh blood, but otherwise it was a silent kill.
Blake reached out with his right hand, fingers seizing the side of a Batarian's head and yanking it to the side, allowing a knife to slide in between the thick groups of muscle and into the soft flesh of the neck. He guided the limp body to floor, wiping the blood off before following Archer.
From the corner of his eye one of the Batarians caught sight of the pair, spinning around and crying out until he caught Archer's knife in his neck. The rest of them were alerted of their presence, promptly opening fire on the Alliance soldiers.
Archer scrambled for cover, reaching a chunk of building that served such a purpose. Blake unslung the shotgun from his lower back, returning fire while sprinting sideways to dive next to her.
One Batarian raider took charge, ordering the others onto Archer and Blake before falling to the ground, his torso pierced by the powerful round of Simon's rifle. The others fell under a wave of fire delivered from the distance.
Archer and Blake leapt from cover, charging the disorganized Batarians with a feral shout. The raiders turned and ran, dropping like flies as the Alliance soldiers continued to shoot them in the back.
In a short while, the raider scouts became nothing but corpses, leaving a small cache of supplies and a personal shuttle. The crew loaded up what little they had on the shuttle, lifting off from the scene of the battle.
Archer looked back at the collapsed building as the ship away.
"I sure hope they don't have some sort of tracking system on the shuttle."
Carl worried aloud as he ate his personal rations in the circle formed by the squad.
"I wouldn't worry about that, Atwood, it's more likely we get hit by a stray round from artillery," commented Argo. His huge, calloused hands gripped his blade like a pencil, carving into the piece of wood that he was whittling.
"Thanks, I guess," muttered Carl quietly.
"I ain't worried about getting shot: that shit is inevitable. These Batarian food rations are gonna kill me faster than the raiders are, and that's the truth," Simon complained, his face cringing as he put another spoonful into his mouth.
"You should be grateful. We didn't get anything much better on Earth. I'd have stabbed a guy with that spoon you're holding for grub like this," Blake commented, gently tapping the side of the metal container with his eating utensil.
"Where the hell did you grow up?" Simon asked incredulously.
"I told you: Earth," Blake answered.
"Where exactly on Earth?"
"In the Vancouver slums. I lived there since I was a boy."
"It's true," Blake said sincerely.
"No wonder you don't got a lick of respect for superiors, private," Archer remarked with a laugh.
"How'd you end up in the Alliance?" asked Simon, sitting up straighter as he became more interested.
Blake shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, my situation changed I guess. I had a hard breakoff with my gang. Besides, both my father and mother were in the Alliance."
"What did you say your name was again?"
"Blake what?" Simon repeated.
Blake thought for a moment, as if he hadn't remembered his last name in a long time.
"Shepard. Blake Shepard," he answered finally.
"Shepard, Shepard, where have I heard that name?..." Simon thought aloud, snapping his fingers while he raked his brain for the information.
"You're John Shepard's kid?" Archer broke in.
"Oh yeah, he does look like Admiral Shepard," Argo agreed.
"How, how do you know my father's name?" Blake asked.
"Everyone knows your father," Carl stated, "He's famous!"
"What do you mean 'he's famous'?" Blake questioned.
"Your father, John Shepard, was the CO of the SSV Shasta until the day it was destroyed near Barnard 33. According to the official reports, the FTL drive went haywire, threatening to take the whole ship with it. Instead of abandoning ship at the immediately, he stayed to secure the fate of the thousands of the crew members aboard. It was one of the greatest military disasters in Alliance history, yet the casualty number was so low. Tie in the fact that both John and Hannah Shepard died in that crash and the story went viral on every extranet article from Citadel space to the edges of the Hegemony. Your father was a hero, Blake."
"Not to mention he was in charge of an Alliance Dreadnought, and not a bad one neither," Simon added.
With that, Blake was silent, his gaze falling on the floor.
"Speaking of origin stories, what about you, Argo?" Simon said, changing the subject after an awkward silence.
"Well, I was the oldest of five, my mother wasn't strong enough to put food on the table, so when I turned sixteen, I joined the Alliance," Argo explained.
"Isn't the minimum age for service eighteen?" Carl asked.
"Yeah, but when I said I was eighteen they believed me. It wasn't long until I learned how to make detonators from old vids and data files I found, giving me the opportunity to be a demo man. Gave me a thirty credit pay raise too," Argo said, his face curling into a warm smile.
"I'll be damned, I could have never guessed, Argo," Archer stated, arms crossed as she nodded her head, impressed.
"What happened to your father?" Blake asked, abruptly.
"Who knows? He wasn't around enough for me to know him, much less miss him. For the most part, I was on my own," Argo said, his tone drowning down. "But it wasn't all that bad! I mean, once I got a contract with the Alliance, I started making enough to support my family. Most of my little ones got jobs as mechanics, maintenance workers; stable work like that. Ma would be proud, rest her bones."
"She should, considering what kind of soldier her oldest turned out to be," Archer smirked.
"What about you, kid?" Simon asked, indicating at Carl.
"Me? I'm just a spacer from a nowhere colony," Carl answered quickly.
"Oh, come on, there's more to it than that. We're all spacers from nowhere colonies," Simon told.
"Well there's really not that much to tell. I'm from a small village, all we did was run a hydroponic farm and raise animals to feed hungry miners. After a while, I got tired of that, so when I got the chance, I joined the Alliance."
"Any girls back home? Waiting for their soldier boy to show off all those medals he earned in the marines?" Simon asked promiscuously, elbowing the boy in the side.
"N-no one in particular…" Carl said.
"What about you, Sandra? Anybody waiting for you back home?" Argo countered.
Archer's expression went from upbeat to sullen in a matter of seconds. She nodded with a hard gulp.
"My husband, and my two children," she explained, removing a picture from inside her armor. She gazed at lovingly before displaying to the rest of the group. "With any luck, they got off planet hours ago. I don't know when I'll see them again, and the way things are going..."
Argo reached over and patted Archer's knee. She turned to be met with the supporting look he supplied.
"I wouldn't count us out just yet, skipper," Simon added, "I've been in far hairier situations than this."
Despite Simon's cheerful tone, the group was still silent.
"Don't believe me? Here!"
Simon pulled from the inner pocket of his armor a canister. He displayed before the group like a mystical treasure, before opening it up. In it was an antique of some sort, from what Archer surmised, yet its function she had no idea.
From the cartridge, Simon removed several slides. He turned, activating the flashlight on his omni tool and aiming at the flat portion of a wall. Through the slide, the light projected the picture captured within, displaying what exactly it was that kept Simon so upbeat.
The first slide was a picture of a foreign city, one Archer could not recognize nor identify. The point of view was from a terrace, which had Simon leaning on the railing of a balcony. He wore a suit of specialized armor, with a long, slender barrel with soft metallic textured gun leaning next to him. In the background was a crowded city, bustling with activity.
"The palace of the hegemony," Simon stated proudly.
Archer went wide eyed.
"The what!?" she asked, incredulously.
"Still believe we won't make it out of here?" Simon asked, now his turn to have a flat tone.
"When were you ever on the Batarian home planet!? Why were you even there in the first place!?" Archer asked.
Simon held out a finger playfully.
"Ah, Ah, Ah," he taunted, "That is classified information that only an N7 operative like myself can know."
"Where else have you been?" Carl asked with boyish enthusiasm.
"Well I'll tell you! Here's one of me on Omega. Here's one with some Quarians I met on a recon mission near the veil. Oh, here's one with me and some other N7 at a pirate base, that trip was fun!" Simon laughed, excitedly going from slide to slide.
Archer smiled as Simon went through his array of top secret vacation photos. The group gathered in a semicircle, facing the flat surface that served as a projector base.
"And here's on from my mission on Elysium," said Simon. He gently pushed a button on the antique in his canister and then ran over to the other four. Before they knew what happened, there was a flash, blinding them momentarily.
"Ah, what the hell?" Argo moaned, trying to rub his eyes back to functionality.
"Perfect! It came out perfect!" Simon exclaimed, clutching a flimsy photo.
Archer recognized it as the five of them, now seeing just what that antique was.
"You could've asked," Argo complained, the strain of his eyes upsetting him.
"You can't ask for the shot, you just have to take it!" Simon exclaimed.
"Damn sniper!" Argo shouted.
Archer smiled as she watched the thin, scrawny sniper argue with the burly, well-muscled demolitions expert. She watched until she noticed Blake to her right doing the something else. He had a half smile as he watched them, and then looked back down at what he was doing. In his right hand, he clutched a photo, a finger stroking it gently. As Archer leaned forward, she noticed it was of a black haired, strong jawed man, non-other than John Shepard.
"I wasn't kidding, you know," Archer said.
Blake looked up, just noticing her attention.
"He was a hero," Archer said firmly.
Blake took in the words, as if they answered a question that long been posed. He looked back down at the photo, his finger tracing down the shoulder of John Shepard.
Shepard awoke rather suddenly.
His blurry vision did little to describe his surroundings other than show him a blinding, white light. His mind, still very groggy, could do nothing with this information, seeing as he had no prior recollection of events leading up to this situation. He opted to reach out with his arms, finding only one responded to his command.
A foreign force came from nowhere, pushing his outstretched arm back down, pinning it. Shepard was confused, not only by the unknown force, but also by the familiar, warm feeling that supplemented it, preventing Shepard's normal, violent reaction.
Accompanying the force was a gentle voice that Shepard could only identify as divine and angelic. It shushed, and each sound the voice produced was like the twang of the celestial strings of the most heavenly of harps.
"Wh-where am I?" Shepard managed to mutter, the right side of his body stiff and numb. He was answered by a hand, soft and warm, grazing across his cheek.
"You're in the hospital," whispered the voice, its tenor as perfect and pristine as he could imagine.
Shepard's vision cleared, revealing to him the source of the voice he so coveted. He was met with a pair of beautiful azure eyes, attached to an equally azure face, ornate with freckles and a warm smile.
The face nodded.
The blood now flowing more freely through his veins, Shepard ventured a gander at his surroundings. He was, in fact, in a hospital. He laid in bed, the white sheets that blurred with the white walls of the room around him now becoming firmly separate with a distinct outline.
His vision now went down to his right arm, which he felt was oddly immobile. He tried to move it, but to no avail.
"Whoa there, cowboy! Wouldn't want you breaking what we just went through so much to fix now would we?" came another voice, this time not as angelic, yet still oddly familiar.
"Dr. Pearface,…" Shepard mumbled.
"Dr. Pearson," He corrected, making sure the restraints on Shepard's arm was firmly in place. "Now, how are we feeling?"
"I dreamt…" Shepard said vaguely.
"You dreamt? Well, that's good, I suppose."
"Oh, well I guess that's not so good then?"
Dr. Chakwas quickly stepped forward.
"What did you dream about Elysium?" she asked, concerned.
He reached up with his left hand, slowing moving it toward Liara. All three pairs of eyes watched as his hand moved forward, finding her nose, lightly pinching it. Shepard grinned stupidly, so happy his eyes might as well have had their own stupid grins on them.
"Gotchur nose," he slurred.
Pearson's hand made a thud on his forehead as he slapped it instinctively.
"Perhaps the amount of medication you've had him on is a bit too much?" Liara suggested.
"At least he's not dead," Chakwas muttered.
Anderson walked through the hallways of Archer Memorial Hospital at a hurried pace. He dodged nurses and doctors alike, rushing past them to a location he was very intent on reaching, finally finding the door adjacent to a three digit room number he recognized. The door flew open as he stepped forward into the room.
A man was standing up, shirtless, his muscled back facing Anderson like a wall of tightly laid bricks. Gripped in his hand was a simple but dangerous looking combat knife, moving smoothly in the deft hands of one that knows the feel of its grip by heart. His body was tense, yet tranquil, like a jungle cat able to pounce with both strength and agility. His legs bent slightly, the center of gravity lowered, his stance evenly disturbing his weight, each tendon in his body coiled like rope as the power in his muscles gathered to one singular location in the core of his stomach. The knife blade shined just slightly and Anderson blinked.
The man's body sprung out, shooting the knife forward, his body two meters further from its former position. His pupils were stern, the rest of his face calm, like he was possessed. The scar tracing down his eye shined evilly, now accompanied with a thick line of surgical scarring up his right shoulder.
"Shepard," Anderson called softly.
Shepard turned back; sweat dripping off his brow, the expression shedding from his face. In its place was a face of elation and joy, almost childishness.
"Anderson! Long time no see!" he exclaimed, walked up to his mentor with open arms.
The two men shared a warm hug for a moment.
"It's only been two days, Blake," Anderson commented.
"Two days on a hospital bed. In a shoulder brace too, I might add," Shepard described as he donned a shirt that was nearby on his sweaty body, "makes a restless man of war like myself very anxious."
Anderson smiled at the soldier before him. His well-muscled body bore many scars, yet his enthusiasm weathered through any hardships he might've faced.
He has come a long way, Anderson thought.
"I looked into your mystery chip. Had someone recover the data it contained."
Shepard leaned forward in anticipation.
"And?" he yearned.
"It uncovered something unnerving that is going on in Alliance space. A bit of a conspiracy going on under the guise of company operations," Anderson said with a sly look in his eye. "You're heading to Feros."
Shepard grinned, as he slid the blade of his knife back into its scabbard, fitting it to the side of his leg.
"Music to my ears."
The Normandy awaited its commanding officer, the air lock gaping open as if on ceremony. Alliance soldiers and navy men went back and forth, seeing to various tasks in preparation of the frigate's departure.
Shepard made his way to the docks, a bag slung over his shoulder. He neared the ship, engaging two of the alien crew mates that greeted him.
"Shepard, good to see you up on your feet for a change. I was getting worried that your injury wouldn't heal," said Garrus.
"You should know more than most I'm made of stronger stuff than the average human. Thanks for the visit, by the way," Shepard answered.
Garrus looked confused.
"When I saw you last, I was pretty sure you were unconscious. Unless of course, you drool out of the side of your mouth when you're awake too," Garrus mused.
"Liara filled me in on the details," Shepard explained.
"Ah. She barely left your side, you know. I even caught her sleeping in that chair a couple of times."
"I see," Shepard muttered, nodding thoughtfully.
Tali broke in, quick to change the subject. "The Normandy is at full strength; we've been resupplied and are ready to head out to wherever you want to take us."
"Good work," answered Shepard, folding his hands behind his back. The alien girl seemed satisfied with this response.
Shepard made his way to the Normandy's main hatch, flanked at either side by the two.
"So what godforsaken crater are you dragging us to this time?" Garrus asked.
"I didn't hear you complaining when I filled you're your scope sight with fresh mercs. And I'll have you know our next location isn't just a crater this time. We're heading to Feros."
"Feros? I've never been there, is it nice?" Tali asked optimistically.
"Hardly. That planet is deserted, save for some unfortunate employees of some company greedy enough to send anyone to that wasteland," Garrus commented.
"So, just like Peak 15?" Tali asked.
"Basically, save for the Rachni surprise; I've had just enough of that for a lifetime," Shepardsaid grimly.
"Don't forget the weather. There is no worse sight than, what infernal name did you call it? Snow?" Garrus asked with a shudder.
The three spoke briefly, before a figure caught the commander's eye.
"Mayor, what a pleasant surprise, what brings you down here?" Shepard asked, stepping away from the alien pair for a moment.
"I heard you were leaving, and I didn't want you to go without hearing my goodbye and sincerest thank you," Edgar said.
"Ed, that's not necessary…" Shepard began.
The city official cut him off.
"It is necessary, Blake. You're a hero here, not to mention everywhere else in the galaxy as well. By god, you're a Spectre now, we should have a statue out front of city hall!"
Shepard flinched at the idea, embarrassed by an idea that was in his opinion both vain and gaudy.
"Please, mayor, I've got a lot on my plate right now," he pleaded, raising his hands in defense.
"Yes, I've heard tales of your adventures from Anderson. I know that you are a busy man, so in recognition of your service to our planet, and as a personal gift from me, I present you with this."
Edgar received a parcel from an attendant behind him, uncovering the top and revealing its contents. In the box, shining a brilliant color of gun metal contrasted against the black velvet interior of its container was a revolver.
Shepard gasped slightly, slowly reaching out with his hand to touch it. The smooth, cool surface proved that it was made with genuine metal, his fingers sliding down the barrel toward the walnut stock handle. Shepard's fingers curled slowly around the grip, lifting the pistol from its case.
"Smith and Wesson .38 Revolver, Pre war 1945," Edgar described.
Shepard held the pistol in his hand, feeling the weight and balance in one hand before bringing up the second. He admired the barrel as he looked down the frame, aligning the notch at the end of the barrel with the two by the hammer of the gun.
"How the hell…" Shepard muttered.
"I got a good deal on it from a college buddy of mine. Four inch barrel, ninety eight percent nickel finish, and I'm told it does have the manufacturing date stamped into the bottom. It is a replica, but don't let that fool you: it has a fully functioning barrel and hammer. I even got a case of bullets if you wanted to take it on the range."
Shepard pulled the pin on the barrel, letting slide out to the side, displaying the six empty crevices in the round piece of metal. He spun it, sending the holes into a blur, stopping it his thumb. He moved the barrel back into the gun's frame, pulling the hammer back until it clicked to a stop. Shepard aimed it out, envisioning himself on the field of battle, lining up the barrel of the gun on the face of an unfortunate enemy. He pulled the trigger, resulting in only a dry click. He pulled it back, relaxing his stance as he moved to replace the gun in its case.
"This is a nice gun," Shepard admitted, fitting the pistol in its velvet lined case.
"I'm glad you liked it. The bullets and the holster are underneath," Edgar explained, handing him the box.
Shepard took the box under his left arm, grabbing the mayor's arm with his right. The two men's eyes met, both heads nodded.
"Good luck," Edgar bade, as he turned and exited the Normandy. Shepard watched him go, coupled by his aides, off to see to some other menial city task that came up on the mayor's schedule.
"Sure was nice of him to say goodbye personally."
Shepard turned to see the familiar face of Anderson beside him.
"You're sneakier than I remember," Shepard said as he embraced the older man.
"An old dog keeps his tricks," Anderson countered.
"It was good to see you, even between the surgery and the funeral."
"Yeah well, the next time you're on the Citadel, we'll have our reunion with some good news."
With that, Anderson patted him on the shoulder and took his leave, the seasoned veteran making his way back to the docks.
Against the night sky, the Normandy looked like a chariot of light, floating off the ground and zooming into the distance, like a god's departure from a visit to the mortal world.
Anderson lifted the edge of his glass up, pursing his lips to allow the liquid to enter his mouth. The bourbon he drank flowed down his throat, the alcohol comforting in its acidic sensation, not to mention the effect it had clouding his doubts on minds.
"He's left Elysium," he spoke to a hologram.
Formed by thin blue lines and dressed in a luxurious yet casual suit sat a man, who also had a drink in his hand, coupled by a long cigar which trailed a line a smoke off the end of it. The man took a puff from the cigar before continuing his inquiry.
"And the data cache?"
"I destroyed it, according to the directions your associates gave me. They were very thorough," responded Anderson.
"Good. I don't have to remind you how important it is to keep him in the dark until the time is right."
"And yet you still do. I sent him to Feros, I hope that's ok."
"That's fine. He needs to be challenged, have danger thrown at him at every turn to keep his instincts sharp. He'll need it for what I believe is coming."
"And what is coming, you suppose?" Anderson asked, once more taking a sip from his glass.
The man looked sternly back at Anderson, a mask of emotion blocking any true expression from shining through.
"We are preparing humanity, David. John was our only hope before, and now he's gone. Without him, we must rely on his son to fill his place."
"I'm just wondering whether or not it will be enough. I mean, what if humanity doesn't live up to its potential, even with him spearheading the charge. What if man falls?"
"You worry about the boy. I will worry about humanity.
The formal dressed man faded away, the holographic projector shutting off.
Anderson stood up from his seat to reach his bar area. He refilled his drink very liberally.
For what's coming, Anderson mused as he gulped down more bourbon. He put one hand against the window of the office out looking the city. The bright city lights in the darkness of night paralleled the planets and stars painted on the blackness of space.
Anderson turned back, placing the empty glass beside the half empty container of bourbon. He looked at the photo on the desk, a projection showing three people in Alliance uniforms, arm and arm in celebration. One of the figures was a young dark skinned boy, the other a red haired girl with sharp features, and finally a black haired boy with stern eyes.
Anderson raised his glass to his lips, finishing the contents in one hard gulp.
"What would you think of me now?"
To Airam, because weirdness loves company.