She is thirty-three years old.

Something is meant to happen (what?). They (who?) have been planning it for months (when?). She just has to remember (how?). She just has to remember what it is (why why why?).

She knows she's not dressed properly and she hasn't the time to change, but instead of the legendary disappointment, for once no hint of disapproval lurks in her foster mother's expression. No. This is anticipation. It is time to dance, perhaps, with her foster father's friends. Only important men are invited to the parties her foster parents throw. (But this party isn't theirs, is it? Isn't it hers? Shouldn't she be able to—)

She steels herself, prepares. She can do this. The turian first, the one with all the complicated white markings. The scarred, grey-haired man with the kind eyes. The big krogan with the huge hump and the face full of scars. (So many scars. All of them scarred, all of them scared, all of them broken.) She must dance with them all. It's expected. She's been told.

(What do you need me to do?)

She's always been good at following orders.

Before she can move, a turian steps between her and her foster mother. A different turian, not the important one she's meant to dance with. The blue on his face is the same as the blue of her dress, and for a moment she thinks she knows his name, for a moment she almost finds words—make it stop, make it end, please don't make me go back, I don't know what's real when I'm there—

But as she inhales (she can't breathe), preparing to speak, the words vanish again like smoke, like ghosts, like the whispers of the dead, leaving only cold and roses and rain—is it raining now? It rains so often here, it rains all the time, it's raining, it's pouring—and different words, ones that don't belong to her. Orders.

She remembers now. She remembers what she's supposed to do.

(You're not supposed to be here.)

Listen, listen, listen.

(You should go. Go, go, go!)

Break, dislocate, snap.

A different kind of dance.

She is a weapon.

Point her and shoot.

The mission always comes first, and the blue-marked turian is in her way. Her foster mother smiles.


"What did you do to her?"

"We were merely conversing. She was behaving… erratically. And then this."

"Bullshit. Shepard? Shepard. Listen to me. Listen. I don't know what the hell's going on, but—"

"Perhaps she's… not herself."

"Perhaps I'll kill you first and ask questions later. What the hell did you do to her?"


She is thirty-three years old.

(Or is it thirty-one? Do the dead years count? No, don't think about that. Don't think about meat and tubes. Don't think about stars, always falling, and the cold. Don't think about—)

Killing turians is hard. She knows how to do it. She knows at least half a dozen ways to kill any species, every species. It's easier with a weapon. She reaches for the gun at her hip, the one she keeps slung on her back, but her hands come away empty. No matter. She is a weapon. Point her and shoot. One target, two. Three. Break, dislocate, snap.

She has trained for this. Has been trained for this.

"You're good at hitting targets," an instructor once told her. (Where? When?) She can't remember his name, but she remembers how proud she was that he noticed her, that he approved of her. Approval seemed so important, then. (You did good, child.) "But can you look through the scope, right into a person's eyes, and still pull the trigger?"

She could. Not easily. She carries the weight of all those eyes. They watch her from the trees. They whisper when she sleeps.

(God. Feels like ages since I just sat down.)

Blue eyes gaze into hers now, so intent, so intense. She cannot escape them. He's not her target, but his scrutiny makes her uneasy. He sees too much. His mouth moves. His mandibles flare. That's the first step, she knows, grab the mandibles, pull them back, twist, break.

While he's incapacitated with broken mandibles, she'd go for the spurs. Spurs are weak; injury to them causes almost insurmountable pain. His are unarmored. If she grabs hold of his cowl and brings her foot down with all the force of her leg behind it, she can dislocate them. Right first, then left. It won't be easy to snap his neck, but she has always been deceptively strong. No one ever sees her coming. She can be a ghost when she must. She can be a shadow. It's how she's survived this long. Break, dislocate, snap. Walk away. Find her target. One, two, three.

(No. Not him.)

He's nothing.

(Not him.)

That's an order, soldier!

(Your boyfriend has an order for you. Your boyfriend—)

She has a name. This turian is saying it. Over and over. It's wrong. She is a weapon. Just a weapon. Weapons aren't named. They are used. Used and discarded. She knows how to kill him. Break, dislocate, snap.

(Not. Him.)

She can't breathe.

(Make it stop, make it end, please don't make me go back, I don't know what's real when I'm there.)

Weapons don't breathe either.

Every muscle screams, every nerve fires. Every fiber of her being says BREAK, DISLOCATE, SNAP. Her hands ache with the compulsion to act. The white-marked turian first. Then the old man with the scar. The big krogan. The krogan will kill her, but by then it won't matter. Her job will be done. Mission accomplished.

The mission. The mission always comes first.

She knows what she has to do.


"What the fuck's going on here? What the fuck is wrong with her? Fuck, Shepard, you better not be pulling this Trojan Horse, gift from Grixos bullshit now."

"Gift from—damn it, Shepard. That's why she had you watching her?"

"Well, it's not like I get off on seeing you two make puppy eyes at each other, you know. I thought—fuck. I thought she was going to be okay."

"She is. She is."

"No. She really isn't."

"Fuck you, too, lady. Hey, who's the uppity bitch with a fucking death wish?"


She is thirty-three years old.

(Or is it three? They remade her, then. Built her with scraps held together with cybernetics and hope. Meat and tubes. How real is she anyway? How long has she been alive? How long has she been dead? She doesn't want to think about watching her own face falling, falling away, falling down, but she sees it, she sees it all the time. She had hate in her eyes, the woman who looked like her but wasn't, wasn't. Maybe she had tears. Those eyes haunt her, too. That voice whispers. She was three. She was three and she'd never been happy, she'd never been safe, not once. Not once. And then she died and no one wanted to bring her back again. She wasn't worth the trouble.)

It's raining. It's pouring.

It's time.

The old man is snoring.

Turian. Human. Krogan.

He fell out of bed and bumped his head.

What do you need me to do?

Kill. Kill the turian. Kill the admiral. Kill the krogan. Die trying.

And he couldn't get up in the morning.


"Hey, Shep, we—okay, I—didn't work that hard so you could play wallflower all—"

"Not now."

"What's going o—"

"No one has a fucking clue. Except maybe the blonde bitch who won't talk."

"Nothing will change."

"Tell it to my biotics, lady. Better yet, tell it to the wall when my biotics fling you into it."


She is thirty-three years old. She is thirty-one; she is three. She is in two places at the same time. Maybe more. It shouldn't be possible, but she is always doing the impossible, isn't she? Isn't she? She is wearing a blue dress. It is not yet stained with blood, but it will be. It won't be as bad as white; at least turian blood is blue. It will hardly show. It will hardly show at all. She is a weapon.

(A victim.)

A woman steps out from behind her foster mother. She's grown, but she wears a little girl's ruffled white dress, patent Mary Janes, knee-high socks. One is pulled high, the other is crumpled around her ankle. Her hair should be held back by a pink ribbon, but it isn't; it falls in a soft, dark curtain around her face. It doesn't hide her expression. She's frowning. Not disappointed, just sad. So, so sad.

She looks down at her hand, expecting to see that missing pink ribbon wrapped around it, but her skin is bare. "Is it time?"

The woman smiles. So sadly. Even sadder than the frown. "I don't know, Skipper. You tell me. Are you finished yet?"

She shakes her head, not sure if she's saying no or just deflecting the question.

"You want me to give you a push?"

Again she shakes her head, but she can't say why, can't say what it means.

"Your nose is bleeding, Skipper."

She shivers. "You should go. You can't help me."


Softly, so softly, she bends her head and whispers, "Tell me something true."

The turian shudders. She feels it. Like she's already broken him. Maybe she has.

You are a weapon.

(What do you need me to do?)

Tell me something true.

You're a peacemaker.

(You did good, child.)

Tell me something true.

They worked you over good, didn't they?

(You're not supposed to be here.)

Listen, listen, listen.

"The mission comes first. The mission always comes first."

The woman in her little girl's dress is gone when she looks up. She's alone. It's time to go home. (Her parents will be so worried. They'll be mad and they'll probably be scared and she's in big, big trouble.)

Her hands lift, slowly. Too slowly; he'll realize what she's doing if she doesn't move fast; he knows her too well; he knows her better than anyone; there's nobody in the galaxy—

She reaches for his mandibles. He's distracted, his too-intense gaze turned away from her at last, looking over his shoulder at the space where the woman in the white-ruffled dress had stood.

Another woman appears, almost as much an apparition as the first had been. She looks all wrong, too thin, her once-long hair cropped, her pale skin bruised. The eyes are right, though. They're blue, too. They're intense, too. "Stop," the woman says. Orders.

She stops, her hands frozen halfway to grasping the turian's mandibles. She's good at following orders.

"I'm sorry, Shepard."

Sorry for what?

"It wasn't supposed to be like this."

It never is.

The woman lifts her hand, her fingers forming a gun, thumb pointed up, two fingers pointed forward, two fingers curled in. She cocks it. Takes a shot.

As the world goes dark with all the suddenness of a switch being flipped, she thinks curiouser and curiouser, and she wants to laugh. Or she wants to cry. Instead she just falls.


Shepard dropped. Not gracefully, like in the vids. Not prettily. It was as if someone had abruptly and unexpectedly kicked her knees out from behind, and if Garrus hadn't reached out with desperate hands to halt her fall, he knew she'd have sprawled flat, arms askew like the useless limbs of a puppet with no puppeteer to guide them. He caught her before her head hit the ground, before she clipped her chin or smashed her nose or was forced by momentum to bite through her own tongue. She didn't stir. Didn't wake. Seemed hardly to breathe.

Pulling her close, he turned, still crouched on one knee, his body curled to protect as much of hers as he could. The whole exchange had taken only minutes, only moments. Around them, people still laughed, still drank, still danced, oblivious. He wanted to flee before anyone noticed, before the inevitable ripple of horror and what happened spread through the crowd. Jack held one of Moira's elbows, her fingers ever so faintly glowing with crackles of blue. Kasumi hovered at the other, omni-tool raised.

Garrus, however, had eyes only for the newest arrivals. Liara he knew at once, of course. The other, the stranger—stranger?—was a human woman, painfully thin, uneven tufts of dark hair sticking up at odd angles. Her skin was so pale he could see every vein, clear as rivers marked on a map, and the bruises around her blue eyes weren't merely smudges of dark exhaustion. Shades of weariness, no matter how deep, didn't yellow at the edges. He recognized the tenor of the rage—cold, calculating, already exacting a perfect revenge—before he recognized the woman.

"Miranda," he said.

Leaning heavily on Liara, Miranda nodded a slight greeting. She didn't smile when she saw him, though some hint of relief softened the stark lines and hard angles of her too-sharp features.

"Good," she said incongruously. Pain scraped all the melody from her voice, leaving it rough and raw and almost as unrecognizable as her beaten, broken form. "I was concerned it might not work."

Moira's demeanor shifted, fury and fear chasing each other across her face. He saw her start forward, pulling hard against Jack's grip. "No," she snarled, suddenly feral, suddenly nothing at all like the cool, composed woman he'd met earlier. "You will not take what is mine." Arms full of Shepard, Garrus was helpless to prevent Moira from moving, from attacking, but Jack was a step ahead of him, the dim blue flaring momentarily bright. Moira jerked once and froze, her nostrils flared, her eyes so wide and wild Garrus could see the whites all the way around.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Jack demanded. "And what the fuck happened to you?"

Miranda's throat worked as she swallowed, preparing to speak, but Liara's was the voice that answered, pitched low, her expression giving nothing away. "It is… a complicated story. And one best divulged in a more private place. One with fewer listening ears and watching eyes."

With Shepard a heavy weight in his arms, Garrus was impatient for answers, but he knew Liara was right. "Bring Callahan," he said to Jack. "Keep her quiet. Kasumi, you try to keep the varren off our backs. You have a vehicle?"

Liara nodded. Miranda looked as though she wanted to say more, but swayed on her feet, her paleness turning an even more sickly shade of green. "I'm sorry, Garrus," Miranda said. "It was the only thing I could think of. It was the only thing."

He rose, bringing Shepard with him, her limp body leaning against him as though she were merely weary, or had drunk too much. "Not here," he said, though it took every ounce of willpower he had not to demand what, Miranda, what have you done?

Her eyes were so haunted as she spoke the words he couldn't bring himself to believe the answer would be anything he wanted to hear.