Control. Synthesis. Destroy.
Destroy. That's what he had been sent to do. To end a billion year old mistake. So he chose destroy with hardly a second thought. Godforsaken AI could burn in hell for what it had done.
He remembered shooting the power conduit. The explosion, engulfing his entire body, burning through his skin, his bone, right through to his soul…
And then there was silence. Peace. Light, a soft, warm light that soothed his body… his body? He didn't have a body any more. It had been burned up…
He opened his eyes… Oh. He was dead.
The beach was long, white sand meeting turquoise waves in an endless stretch… and, this being the afterlife, Shepard was quite sure that it did, in fact, go on forever.
But behind the beach was a strip of green, palm trees, undergrowth, birds calling and shrubs with flowers in a multitude of colors, and he felt drawn to it, inward, upward, into the dim interior and the heat and scent…
Along a short track through the undergrowth, he came upon a clearing, a resort, of sorts, with cabanas and groups of people, all species, the ones he knew, and several he had never seen before. And good God, there was a bar after all. The bartender was a grinning asari, and he dashed forward, looking eagerly for a familiar face…
"Shepard." He spun around… and there he was. Garrus, minus the armor, looking relaxed, if a little perplexed, two beers on the table in front of him. Shepard approached him, half nervous, half disbelieving.
"You're really here?"
"I ran afoul of a marauder with good aim. I don't have any regrets, but somehow I had thought heaven wouldn't have quite so much…"
"So much what?"
"Water. Waking up on the beach… I though I was in hell, to begin with. And then Thane came and found me, told me that the water was only part of the story, necessary for the hanar and various other species – humans seem particularly fond of it, even if they're not naturally water-dwellling – but that there were other hotter, drier places for other species. So I came here. And what do you know? There's the bar."
Shepard couldn't keep the grin off his face. He sat down, took a sip of his beer… and wow, that was good. He sighed, sat back… then frowned. There was something missing here.
"Did anyone else…?"
"I only got here a few minutes ago," Garrus admitted. "Haven't had a chance to look around. But I thought I'd wait a while and see if you showed up." His face turned serious for a moment. "The reapers?"
"Dead," Shepard said, and somehow, he knew it was true. "We won."
Something bright and shiny skittered across Shepard's vision, in the corner of his eye… and he turned his head, but saw nothing. He turned back to Garrus and they sat in silence for a time, watching the trees sway in the breeze, the passers by laughing and chatting, multitudes of children playing and running about. An asari girl head-butted a krogan youth, then ran away laughing, and the krogan followed, yelling for her to come back and fight properly.
"EDI's dead," he said at length. "When the crucible fired, it was going to kill all synthetic life."
"You think she'll show up here?" Garrus asked, hopeful, but not particularly optimistic.
"If she doesn't, I'm going to be having words with whoever is in charge," Shepard promised, an edge to his voice.
"I saw Tali go down," Garrus admitted, when their glasses were empty. "Not sure if she died. I'm not sure if it's impolite to hope she'd dead, but I'd really like to see her, if she's here." He knocked on the table, and the glasses were full again.
"That's a handy trick," Shepard noted, and Garrus grinned.
"This is heaven. Or what the Turians call Galarta."
"And what about turian hell?"
"It's called Himista. It's a place full of water and giant monsters with seventeen tentacles."
"Our hell is full of fire, where humans are tortured for all the evil they did. It's ruled by bipedal creatures with horns."
More silence, as they drank their beer. And Shepard once again had the feeling that something was missing. A shimmering light flittered at the edges of his vision, and he turned his head. But there was nothing there.
"Do you think the others made it?"
"Liara's alive," Garrus said. "I'm sure of it. And Traynor. I talked to the bartender earlier. She said she'd never heard of Traynor, and most people who had just arrived came through this way."
"She knows who's here?" Shepard asked, then dismissed the question even before Garrus had answered it. Of course she knew who was here. He got up. "I just have to go ask her something," he said, and Garrus nodded.
"Excuse me," he said, as he arrived at the bar. "I'm looking for someone. I'm not sure if he's arrived yet, but maybe you've heard about him?"
The bartender smiled at him. "If he's here, I'm sure to hear about it. What's his name?"
There was that shimmering light in the corner of his eye again, and he turned his head. But there was nothing there.
"Are you alive?" she asked, and Shepard frowned.
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Sometimes people have trouble letting go of the before-life. It makes things here difficult to understand."
"I'm dead. I mean, I died in the… the before-life, as you call it."
"And Kaidan? Is he dead?"
"Yes. I saw him die."
"Then there's your problem."
"You think you're dead," the asari said. "And you'll never find Kaidan for as long as you believe he is also dead. So let me ask you again. Are you alive?"
Shepard thought about that. "I don't know. Am I?"
The asari smiled. "You can eat. Drink. Talk. Meet with old friends. Is that life?"
"Yes," Shepard answered. "I suppose it is."
"Then you are alive."
"And is Kaidan alive?"
The asari looked over to her left, at something out of Shepard's line of sight… and he turned his head, seeing a figure shimmering with light. It walked towards him… and as it got closer, the light faded and cleared, leaving him a clear picture of…
Heart in his throat, Shepard dashed across the courtyard, dodging children, weaving around tables, and patrons got out of his way as he threw himself into Kaidan's arms. Arms that caught him firmly, pulled him close, held him tight. Tears filled his eyes as he clung tightly.
"Kaidan…" His throat was tight, Kaidan's arms holding him up as he sagged against a firm, warm body, as solid as it had ever been in the before-life.
"You're late," Kaidan said, laughter in his voice.
"You're here," Shepard said in relief. "You made it."
Kaidan grinned. "James is around somewhere, but he wanted to go exploring. Said there'd be plenty of time to drink cerveza later."
Shepard patted Kaidan's arms, his shoulders, his face. "You're really here."
"Where else would I be?"
"Garrus is at the bar," Shepard said, ignoring the question. "He'd love to see you."
But then Kaidan saw something over Shepard's shoulder… and that handsome face broke into a wide grin. "Looks like someone else decided to show up as well," he said. Shepard turned around…
And there, walking up the path from the beach, was a pale blue, mechanized body. EDI was staring at her hands in consternation, flexing her fingers, moving her arms…
Tears burst from her eyes, her face full of wonder as she looked up to see Shepard and Kaidan coming towards her.
"I can feel the wind," she said, astonishment in her voice. "I feel warm. I feel… joy. I am alive."
"Yes," Shepard agreed. "Yes, you are."