28 June 2186, Sol System Space
Normandy returned home the next day, gliding down from the Charon relay to take up a parking orbit not far from the battered Citadel. Looking down on Earth, we could see the terrible scars the war had inflicted. Most of the planet remained wreathed in filthy grey clouds, smoke suspended in the high atmosphere, the death-shroud of a thousand cities.
Yet we also found reason for hope.
Already, the Alliance and its friends had fanned out across the devastated land, finding survivors, bringing them together, beginning the long work of rebuilding. Admiral Hackett seemed as dynamic a leader in peacetime as he had in war. Even then, many already began to speak of him as a future leader for the entire human species.
Many of our own friends and loved ones remained among the living. Jack, Samara, Jacob Taylor, and Kasumi Goto had all escaped with the fleet. My father Aethyta, the Consort Sha'ira, and Aria T'Loak had somehow lived through the Crucible's activation on the Citadel. Owen Bailey had taken a serious wound during fighting in the Wards, but he already seemed well enough to curse at his doctors and trade affectionate barbs with Ashley. We received news that Aspasia and Matriarch Pytho had emerged safely from their deep bunker on Illium. Quintus and Treeya saw the end of the war aboard Cannae. Even Wrex and Grunt, still trapped in London at the end, both made it through Hammer's desperate last stand.
To my surprise, Javik had endured, his Prothean constitution pulling him through the horrible wounds that knocked him out of our final dash for the beam. "Rrrh. This is nothing, compared to what I suffered in my cycle," he told me when I called him. Of course.
So many had died, but some had survived, enough to carry on Shepard's work. Enough for all of us to hope for a future worth having.
I suppose, then, it should not have surprised me when my omni-tool chimed, and an unexpected message appeared in my queue.
I hurried down to London once more.
28 June 2186, Alliance Field Hospital, London/Earth
She looked so small and pale, lying asleep in her hospital bed. I checked the chart and shuddered at the extent of her injuries. At least she seemed to be out of danger and on the mend.
I sat down by her side, leaned forward to take her hand.
Her eyes opened, and her head turned to face me. "Liara."
"Oh Vara. I'm so glad you're well. I was certain we had lost you."
"No." She chuckled quietly. "It will take more to kill me than a brute, a stone wall or two, a ten-meter fall, and being buried in rubble for days. Although I suppose that did come very close."
"I'm sorry I had to leave you behind."
"Don't worry about that. The fortunes of war." She took a deep breath. "I heard about what happened to you. I heard about Shepard. Liara, I'm so sorry."
To my surprise, I found I could give her a small smile. "Thank you. Although you won't have heard the whole story."
She glanced at me, a mute question.
"He saved us, Vara. He saved all of us. I can't prove it to you, but it's true."
"How?" she whispered.
"It's a very strange tale. I'm not sure you will believe it. I'm not sure I believe it." I squeezed her hand. "Maybe I'll tell you someday. For now, therapōn, you need to get back on your feet. There's work to be done."
"What, we win the most terrible war in fifty thousand years, and not even that gets us a vacation?"
"You know what they say. The reward for work well done . . ."
"Is more work." She nodded, already looking as if she had more vitality. "Well. The Reapers did a great deal of damage. Is it time for the Shadow Broker – and, of course, her sexy-dangerous bodyguard – to turn and begin the rebuilding?"
"Something like that." I sighed. "All of it can wait until tomorrow."
So I sat at my acolyte's bedside, and we talked about many things. About others we knew who had survived the war. About the tasks we would find to do in peacetime. About the changes that might have to take place, on Thessia and on all the worlds that had survived.
About Shepard. All the things he had done. All the things he meant to both of us.
Sometime in those quiet hours, the clouds outside broke, for the first time since the great battle. The sun shone down on ravaged Earth, light streaming through our window to fall across Vara's bed, painting the room in white and gold.
Human myth offers many examples of the hero who appears to die, but who in fact only withdraws from the world, to rest until he is needed once again. Theseus, Arthur, Charlemagne, Holger Danske, Friedrich Barbarossa, Francis Drake, Steven Rogers . . . all of them have been said to sleep under mountains, encased in ice, or on faraway sacred isles, waiting for the times to change and the day of their return to arrive. Even the deity of Shepard's religious tradition is said to have died, only to rise again and then ascend into the heavens, awaiting some homecoming in the distant future.
So it has been with Shepard. For almost four hundred years, none have seen him but the desperate or the deluded. The Intelligence, or its eidolon, told me in no uncertain terms that Shepard is dead. Yet if the Intelligence can be trusted, Shepard's mind lives on, his memories and personality translated into a higher form, invested with infinite power and majesty. Shepard may have withdrawn from our worlds, yet still he watches over all of us, a mighty, unseen guardian who has helped secure the Long Peace.
If the Intelligence can be trusted.
To be sure, the Reapers left our galaxy centuries ago, and we have had peace from them ever since. Our civilization has rebuilt, has grown and evolved, reaching heights not even the Protheans knew in their days of greatness. Organic and synthetic beings live together, for the most part in peace, a kind of synthesis slowly growing between them. Ancient enemies, their differences mostly resolved, now live and work side by side. Everything the Intelligence told me has turned out to be true.
Yet I can't help thinking that when we deal with a being with power and intelligence so far beyond ours, we can never see more than what that being chooses to reveal to us. The Intelligence could easily have lied to me, using Shepard's image to calm my fears and override my suspicions. It could still have plans for us that we would not choose for ourselves.
For all I know, the Reapers may come roaring back into the galaxy at any moment, ready once more to kill us all. I don't believe that will happen, but I can only take it on faith. Faith in the good intentions of a being I have never met in person, and will never comprehend. Faith that in some sense, the man I loved is still alive out there, still making his presence known in ways that I can barely imagine.
For centuries now, I have watched, and I have waited, and I still do not know for certain.
Perhaps I never will know for certain.
I do know one thing.
My life has been full and strange. I have lived five hundred years, in peace and war and peace once again. Naïve maiden, scientist, entrepreneur, spymaster, revolutionary, diplomat, politician . . . I can hardly begin to count the roles I have played. I have served as the chief executive of a polity spanning the entire galaxy. I have enjoyed long years in the peaceful quiet of private life. I have fought in conflicts so terrible that they shattered worlds. I have stood in simple wonder, holding my daughter in my arms for the first time.
So many things I have seen, and done, and lived. I owe them all to Shepard. Not simply because he gave up his life so that all of us might live. Because he loved and cherished me, and he called me to fight at his side, and in so doing he taught me how to live.
How to stand strong for what is right. How to stake one's very life for the good, and never count the cost. How to approach the Other with understanding and compassion. How to be wiser, stronger, better than the universe expects. How to be larger than life, as he was.
If I am never able to thank him properly for all of this, at least I can pay the debt forward, by teaching and leading others as he would have done. That way, when he and I meet once more on the blessed shores, perhaps I will be able to stand tall in his presence.
Or perhaps he and I will meet before then. Where Shepard is concerned, all things seem possible.
He has already returned from death once. Perhaps those old myths offer some hope that he will come back to us, now when so many of us hope for his presence once again.
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.
Day of Remembrance, 2580 CE