So Vendetta received a rather lukewarm welcome. I'm going to stick to what I apparently know best: relatively quiet and introspective character pieces. This one's going to focus on Shepard and Ashley. I hope it doesn't retread too much old ground, but by the same token, the tired and cynical side isn't addressed enough. Not in most fics, nor in the game itself.
The camera's lens is static, showing the simple image of a man wearing a white military undershirt. His hair is unkempt, his gaze unfocussed as he stares slightly past the camera. His eyes are glazed over with a combination of exhaustion and something else. Reminiscence, perhaps? Worry? Fear? Whatever it is, the man's exhaustion is quite obviously more than physical. His face is clean, but his chin is unshaven; Alliance holding cells are rather sparse when it comes to personal grooming. His hair is also a dry, tousled mess, but his most glaring feature is the network of… wounds… on his face, if that's what one could call them. A spidery pattern glowing slightly orange, though that could be just a trick of the light. It appears that most of the damage has since healed, but the scars are present.
The man is well-muscled, but lean. Many Alliance marines like to keep themselves looking like Oxen, but this one has the manner and honed physique of a winter wolf. A practiced hunter. He did not start that way. It was a transformation. It developed alongside his incredible story.
A voice from behind the lens says, "Good morning, Commander Shepard. How are you feeling?"
"Same as yesterday." The man answers blankly. "Probably the same as I will tomorrow. You?"
"I am well, thank you."
The prisoner's eyes shift for a moment as he examines his interrogator. "You look it. How's the desk job treating you?"
Behind the camera, a throat is cleared, and papers are shuffled awkwardly. "I've come today to talk about your time with Cerberus. I'm hoping for a little more cooperation from you today."
"First things first, what have you done with my Hamster?" the prisoner asks in a bored tone.
Behind the camera, the interrogator makes a frustrated noise. "We haven't been able to locate it yet. My apologies, Commander, but I would like to focus on other things.."
"I thought my rank had been revoked."
"It has." The voice admits cautiously. "May I call you John?"
"No. the people who earned that right didn't do it sitting behind a desk." The prisoner practically spits the last word. His face is filled with anger and bitterness. He continues, "I have a last name. Use it. Everyone else does. As for my time with Cerberus…"
"We would like to hear about your crew members again."
"I gave you my reports."
"Your reports tell us very little, Mister Shepard. You've redacted all the names."
"I did not redact a thing."
"Before you presented us with your reports, You replaced all the crew names in all of them with 'Qwib-Qwib'."
A smile appears for a moment, lingering on the edge of the prisoner's stoic face. "Still a name. They still tell you all they need to."
"I disagree, Commander. I've read all of them. But we've heard from various sources that one or two members of your crew were quite close to the terrorist leader known as The Illusive Man."
The prisoner's face twitches. For a fraction of a second, worry appears. But he suppresses it. "Really?"
"You are aware that by not giving those names to the Proper Alliance Authorities, you are at risk of being tried of aiding and abetting terrorists."
"I'd take it over aiding and abetting lazy idiots." He shoots back quietly. "I am not going to give up the people who were loyal to me!"
The voice sighs. "I fear that that attitude is not going to get you very much sympathy during the tribunal, Commander."
"It's just Shepard, and you have more to fear than that."
"Was that a threat, Shepard?"
"No threat. Simple fact. Ask the block-headed bureaucrats who ordered you in here. Ask them what I mean. I guarantee they all know. They just aren't telling you. I guess it's easier to let you die. At least the Illusive Man was honest with his people."
"We aren't the enemy, commander."
The prisoner snorts dryly and stares at the floor. "And neither is Cerberus. Have you ever heard of Reapers? How much did you read of my report?"
"All I could." The voice pauses, then admits, "Large sections had been redacted."
The prisoner shrugs lightly. "Well then, Doctor, I guess you don't have the necessary security clearance to decide whether or not I deserve a clean psych evaluation."
This declaration is followed by a long silence. Eventually, more papers are shuffled. When next the interrogator speaks, it is in a tone of annoyance, and immense satisfaction. "In that case it is my most sincere pleasure to inform you that we found a name, Commander."
Another flash of emotion from the prisoner: fear, this time. He suppresses it easily, another habit formed through daily practice. "Joker cracked?"
"Sadly, no." the voice informs him. "Flight-Lieutenant Moreau has been as… uncooperative as you have. We would have liked to move him to a more suitable facility-" At this announcement, the prisoner glances sardonically around the sterile white room. "-but it appears that your Cerberus frigate's VI will only respond to his commands, and his alone." The voice pauses for a moment. "Very advanced security for an organization with as limited resources as Cerberus has."
"If only you knew." The prisoner says, looking relieved, and somewhat amused. "So if not Joker, then whom, exactly?"
"Vadim Rolston. Identified via DNA samples left on his bunk. He was picked up in San Francisco two days ago. An advertisement for hair-care products identified him as a wanted man, and notified us automatically."
The prisoner rubs his face, his exhaustion appearing to increase ten-fold. "Where… where was he… ? What was he doing when you picked him up?"
"He was in a shopping centre with a young girl. Don't worry, Commander Shepard. She has been safely returned to her mother. The Cerberus agent had not harmed her at all."
"Because she's his daughter, you… you stupid Varren-fuckers!" the prisoner's voice is strained with frustration.
"We were… aware. But we couldn't have a Cerberus agent wandering freely through the civilian population. We have to put the safety of our law-abiding citizens above the rights of terrorists."
"You and your fucking system. You couldn't even give him a weekend of peace, could you? Everyone should have that now."
"We have to catch these terrorists, Shepard. You've been closer to their leader than anyone the Alliance knows. Your knowledge could be invaluable to taking them down. That is, if you aren't one of them."
The Prisoner completely ignores the thinly-veiled probe. He seems far more affected by the news of Rolston's capture. "Why do you keep taking people away from their families? Everyone deserves to be with their families these days. Do you have a family, Doc?"
"I'm… not entirely comfortable giving up that information to you. My apologies, Shepard."
"And yet it's fine destroying Rolston's family again? You're a hypocrite. The entire Alliance is full of them!"
"A lot of the Batarians you blew up in the Bahak Relay Incident had families, as well, Shepard. How do you feel about that?"
"It was necessary. The Reapers are coming! They'll destroy everything!"
"Calm yourself, Commander Shepard!"
"If you have a family, you should go home and hold them close."
"My place is here."
"You'll be singing a different tune later on. I promise you that. I had a family. Twice. This is the second time that has been stolen from me, and this time my own side are the culprits. I'm not angry at you. I don't hate the Alliance any more than I hate Cerberus. I just want my ship back. Or to be a civilian. One of those two things." He settles on the table, his head in his hands, elbows resting on the cold, sterile metal surface. "Either reinstate me and let me keep fighting, or let me go. Please, Doc. I beg you. I just want…" he slowly shakes his head, his tone beaten and devoid of hope. "But that's not going to happen. The rules tell you what to do, don't they? And they say I'm going to be here till the Reapers kill us all. Just leave, doc. Please. I want to be alone. Just leave me alone."
"I'm afraid I have to finish this interview, Commander Shepard."
He looks up, straight at the unseen interrogator. The prisoner's expression is full of sudden, wild frustration. "What interview? Why? There's only one piece of information you need: The Reapers are coming! Why is no one listening?! I want to talk to Anderson! I want to talk to Hackett! You have to get people moving! Armed! We don't have time to piss around anymore!" he starts shouting at the camera. "I know you're all watching this! Get us ready for fuck's sake! Get us ready! The Reapers are coming! Listen to Cerberus! The Reapers are coming!" He keeps shouting those four words, even as guards move in from behind the camera. The prisoner keeps shouting and struggling, eventually knocking the camera over with a well-placed kick. The image shows the guards slam him into the table, holding him down until another figure manages to fasten his restraints and apply the sedative.
As the chemical sleeping agent is injected, the feed pauses.
In an apartment in Vancouver, Lieutenant Ashley Williams lowered her omni-tool, staring at the image of John's stricken face. the video had a time stamp, showing it was taken five and a half months ago. She turned away and glanced through her temporary apartment's glass window. It provided a stunning view of the Vancouver skyline, and her eyes focused on the Alliance headquarters just across the bay, where she knew John Shepard was being held. There were hints of him in that video, at the start at least. Ghostly echoes, but not enough to convince her. Not by a long shot.
The interrogator was a psychologist, and foremost expert on Cerberus agents, not to mention one of the Alliance's gentlest interrogators. He was one of the best. The Alliance had always brought in the best for Shepard. They always had. Even after her fifth time viewing it, it still amazed Ashley how ungrateful for that he always appeared in that recording. He appeared a different man, both emotionally and physically. And those scars! Ashley hated them. John Shepard was a handsome man, but his wounds made him look like inhuman. Like an orange husk. They were far smaller than they had been on horizon, much of it having been covered over by a network of thin scar tissue, and his eyes were back to their normal grey/blue color. She couldn't help but think of how he had looked on horizon; the orange scars glowing brightly, the robotic implants in his eyes making it nearly impossible to read him as she had been able to do so many times before.
He had sounded so normal then, in complete contrast to the way he looked. He had spoken, so much like John Shepard that the difference between sound and visual was a bizarre and jarring thing.
And now the tables had turned. Beyond the apparent exhaustion, he looked more like John Shepard than he had in any reports after the collectors had taken the Normandy. But he sounded different. His voice, when he wasn't screaming at the camera, had adopted a flat, aloof drone. It was so unlike him. She remembered the days when he was a joyful being, talking to her in the cargo bay and cracking those awful jokes… and now?
Now there was this thin…
This decrepit… thing.
This husk. The word crept into her mind and stayed there, despite all of her best attempts to dislodge it. The prisoner in the videos was a savage mockery. John would not side with Cerberus. He wouldn't care about their agents. He would be standing proudly with the Alliance, working to take them down! And so would Joker! Why wasn't Joker cooperating? What had Cerberus done to them? They should have all stood together: Commander Shepard, leading the new Normandy at the head of an alliance fleet, taking down the Reapers! He'd be clean-shaven, with his hair cropped exactly the way it used to be. Joker would be at the helm, and Ashley, at the Skipper's side, ready to kick some ass, alongside Garrus and Tali and Wrex and Liara, and the first Reaper they took down would be in Kaidan's honor.
Except that the prisoner in the video was not John Shepard. Not the man she had shared so much with the night before Ilos. He had changed, and she saddened by the knowledge that whatever god's plan was, the Reaper war would not go down the way she wanted it to.
I've always wondered what Shepard would be like in the weeks after handing in the Normandy back to the Alliance.
P.S. Citadel = Bioware redeemed. That game now has a complete ending. The EC wraps up the Reapers, and Citadel handles all the important stuff.