Gina stares through a hole that has been melted into the MegaMart ceiling and sees the enormous leg of a robotic alien creature. At any moment it might fall on her and destroy what's left of the building, or it might drop to one side and never know she was there.
She knows what it is, or at least she knows as well as anybody else does. It's one of those things. Like the thing that nearly destroyed the Citadel three years ago, and Shepard of all people came in and destroyed it. Rippers. Reapers? Those vast, all-powerful living starships with all the legs. Shepard said there was more than one and nobody dared believe it. Gina had believed it. This was always going to happen. Gina knew that.
As silly as people said it was, as hard to believe as it had always seemed, the aliens were always going to come down and step on us.
That noise again. It's so loud. Gina guesses it is probably the sound of some kind of gun or laser beam or heat ray or something that the creature is shooting, just levelling the city at will, but she doesn't want to think. How many deaths does that sound signify? The noise is louder than any ship takeoff she's ever heard. And when it gets really loud, it gets into her head, right inside her head, in her thoughts, and it seems to start again, even louder. That awful noise. The whole thing only lasts a second or two, but she dreads it. The stretches between blasts are more comfortable. She can control her breathing then.
That Illusive Man is a fucking idiot. You know what this is, don't you? Gina knows. This is what you get when you travel to the centre of the galaxy and destroy the Collectors' base. Fucking Cerberus and their human expansion. They know shit. Turns out that when you walk into the space bugs' nest and blow it up, that's not the end of it. There are other nests and they come after you. These robots were controlling the Collectors, weren't they? And this is their revenge.
The air smells absolutely foul. Gina can fire a gun – she has killed aliens and people lots of times – but she's not going out there. The air is thick now. This is just the outer city, too. This is Glendale. It's a nice place. Really nice ever since Earth got a Citadel Council seat. But now it's just smoke and burned meat and blood. It hurts to imagine what the world capitals must look like by now. How many are lost. It would be hard to breathe, but Gina is too panicked to control that. Her breaths are fast, hard and sharp, making her inhale the stuff every second. But she always stops when–
The noise again. All the gunfire and screams and shouts and engines are gone, and there's the noise. The sky, what little she can see through the twisted wreckage of the building she is huddled under, is bright red.
Fuck the Collectors. We shouldn't have gone after the geth. That was how all this shit started, right there. The geth attacked Eden Prime and Shepard went after them. At the time, Gina had been very proud of the young soldier.
But the alien robots were controlled by even bigger alien fucking robots, and Shepard tried to fight them too. Gina is old enough to remember when humans used to think they were alone in the universe. Thirty years later we're setting up a colony in the Terminus systems. What in the fuck were we doing colonising Eden Prime? They say it's a paradise, hence the name. But we don't belong there.
The noise. The red. Gina tries to scream this time, to drown it out, but it doesn't work. She doesn't even feel any pain in her throat or vibration in her body. Nothing to distract her.
This is Tenth street, where Gina has spent the better part of her life. She ran with gangs as a kid and did worse things afterwards, until her early retirement. It was lonely and cruel, but it was secure and it did all right by her. She had been part of a movement affiliated with Terra Firma, unofficially of course. A group who weren't bound by the rules. When you looked at the bigger picture, you saw that the killings and the political control and the sand smuggling was doing good work: keeping Earth united and keeping it human. That's how it had always seemed to her, anyway. She hasn't been so sure of that for the last few years, but still she had never left this place.
We know what colour our blood is. That's what they used to say. It made a lot more sense when she was younger. Maybe right now it makes sense again. She's seen a lot of red blood today. The aliens are coming to kill us, just like they all thought.
Grissom shouldn't have activated that Relay. Human fucking expansion. Gina remembers the war and everything after. The people of Earth had taken their first step in the dark, right into the sights of men from another world with faces made of bones. Right into a war with angry extra-terrestrial beings who might have murdered us all. Right back down to Earth in coffins.
She blinks and when her eyes are open there is one of the batarian things, like those horrific husk robots that the geth had, but batarian. There are so many of them outside. A batarian killed the first man Gina ever loved, a long time ago now. This one is hardly even the same species though. Hardly alive. Its body has been stretched-out by the giant starship things. Its flesh is grey and half ripped-out and replaced by machinery. Gina is no mechanic, but this 'work' looks shoddy. Whatever inhuman bastard did this didn't know what it was doing. Alliance and Cerberus can both put complicated tech implants in a body and do a much better job than this. It's been on the news. This is infantile. It's pathetic. This is the best the machines can do?
The thing has seen her and it's raising the cannon that has been rammed and melded onto its elbow. It will all be over soon. She wishes she could stop it. A part of her is repulsed by the thought of a fucking four-eyes taking her out, but she is glad this one looks like he's suffered more than her. Hopefully the turians are being tortured like this too. Hopefully the asari are being taken down a peg. All the fucking space aliens. Let them get torn apart and have blue lights shoved into their eye sockets, just like this one.
Or let Commander Shepard do something. Make them help us maybe. If anyone can do it–
Another blast. So much louder than before. Gina can't see the leviathan's legs through the hole in the ceiling but the noise is so loud. Everything is so hot now. The inside of the room is lit in scarlet and then white. She just sinks down beneath the wreckage, watches and waits. She won't get up again now.
The noise in her head starts to form words, or it makes her think. It's as though she's drunk or dreaming. The husk is gone and in its place she sees a small child with bright blue eyes, looking at her in abject fear. Poor thing. "Everyone's dying," he says. Or maybe she does. It's hard to make out what's happening. "You came too far," one of them says. "We should have stayed home," says the other. Gina thinks about holding the child's hand but he's already running away from her.
Gina has lived forty-seven years and all of them have been rough, so she doesn't remember much about her childhood. But she vividly remembers the first time she left Earth, so vividly in fact that now she sometimes wonders how much of the memory is true. It seems more like a recurring dream than a part of her real life. She had been terrified and her parents had thought it was cute. She remembers them laughing as they reassured her about space travel. "We're only going to the moon," her mom had said. But what was beyond the moon? And what was beyond that? It was all just deep black and it looked like it went on forever. What would happen when you went outside the walls? It was always going to happen. "It's an incredible view," Mom had said. "Inspiring. You'll see."
And when they got there, she remembers looking out through the glass dome at Luna base and seeing the Earth. It was all wrong. The sky was black and the Earth was just hanging there, small and blue and completely out of control. It was all wrong. Her mom laughed. "Your dad is going to Mars," she had said. "The researchers need his help with something very exciting!" Gina was so scared for him. She was angry.
Why in the world was he going to Mars? she had thought. Everybody knows that's where the monsters are.