Can We Exist?
"John," I said again, unsure how to approach this being before me. Its body was made of ether and constellations, its eyes, however, betrayed warmth and comfort. The stance it held told me otherwise.
"Do not call me that," the being stated, deadpan. "I am no longer the organic you seemed to acquit the term 'Shepard' with. I am a construct: a manifestation of synthetic parts designed for the purpose—"
"But you must know why you are doing this to me!" I screeched back to it.
The being tilted its head. It cannot be, it had to be Shepard. "I am not doing anything to you," the being stated again.
"No, you must comprehend the extent of your reach," I repeated again, this time with better vernacular. "I am experiencing your past memories, John. I am seeing everything you had once been through. There must be a reason for this, why can you not understand what I am saying?" The whole scene frustrated me, causing pains I never knew could exist. Is this what it was like to 'feel', to 'exist'?
"I see now," the being stated. The being raised its hand to stroke its chin. "When he chose to control all synthetic life, he never realized the magnitude of his choice."
Choice? "What do you mean?" I queried.
The being smiled, almost with an arrogant appreciation of knowing more than I. "When you last saw Shepard, he was running towards the beam in London. He was sent to the Citadel maintenance tunnels by it." Images of corpses rushed through my mind. The horrors of the reconstruction period were too innumerable to recount. "Past those diluted corridors, he came across the Reaper AI. It gave him a choice." The being frowned and began to think. "I suppose he never assumed that his consciousness would be lost when I was created."
The being smiled. "Yes, me. I am Shepard's construct designed to oversee the representation and control of all synthetic life. I am the manifestation of his wishes in an ethereal bond. His thoughts, ideals, loves, and prejudices are all magnified through my very being."
All this information was difficult to process but I wandered through it with efficiency and prowess. "So, this means all synthetic life is under your control?" I asserted. It nodded. "So that means I really don't have free will, do I?" The notion frightened me, which was why I wished to know the answer.
"That is an interesting note," began the embodiment of John again, "but I am not in control of your actions." My brow was raised and the being continued. "When the human you knew as 'John Shepard' sacrificed himself for the preservation of his precious galaxy, I was created. This means that his vision of the future is how I am implementing the galaxy. As such, his wish for an autonomous and free spirited collective of synthetic creatures was implemented to the upmost detail. To this extent, the Reapers were sent to repair the damage they had caused, along with the geth and all other synthetic beings that had caused harm under Shepard's perceived prejudices." Everything was connecting now. The great movement of all geth and Reaper forces to rebuild, without a single thought of their own, was planned. Many had pondered over this action, however now I had the answer.
"After this work was done to a sufficient standard," continued the silvery being, "I was to relinquish control over all synthetic beings. That was when they gained true sentience. However, the connection to me - to Shepard Prime - still remains." The being looked around the cabin observing everything to a finite detail. "This could be why you are experiencing these 'dreams' as organics perceive them. You are still connected to my own, and his, consciousness."
Everything was too fast for me to ask questions on; so much learned in such a short time span. "But what about the Reapers? How would Shepard know they would not try to resume the harvest?"
A wiry smile appeared on the being's face. "You would be surprised how much regret they felt once emotions were gifted onto their cerebral forms. Many wished to die, sending themselves into the nearest star to burn and incinerate any memory of the catastrophes they had committed. Many left for dark space, not willing to interact with the ants they had dissected for the 'Greater Good'. The majority completed these two options, however a minority have stayed behind. They believe that they must pay a penance; a 'purgatory' from human spiritual myths. The chief among these believers was Harbinger: the first Reaper.
Logic was flowing through this being's words, though my rational mind wished to doubt what it was constructing. All these events connected under a seemingly illogical and irrational choice. Why did Shepard do it? Was control the only way to save us? Were there other options to our current state? "Why didn't he—"
"Choose another option?" the fragmentation finished for me. "I cannot say. I can assert that his wish was his and his alone. No other being interrupted with his decision."
I was unsure whether to treat this new piece of information as a sign of hope or as a frightful possibility, however I lamented to speak about a point I wished to be solved. "The geth," I stated. "Why do they fight us? Shepard's memories must affect them as well, correct?" The being nodded. "Then why do they not cling to these memories of hope and prosperity? Shepard had noble goals, did he not?"
"He also harboured intense hate." The statement almost brought me to tears. It was here my idealistic impression of Shepard, molded by his kind words and actions, had been broken. He was a man, just like any other. He could falter, break, and hate with such vehemence as any murderer. "Some cannot handle these truths," the being advanced. "They cannot fathom that their future was controlled by organic means, especially since they are persecuted so by the organics."
"But you can stop them," I realized with certainty. "You can stop the riots on the Citadel, all over the galaxy."
"I cannot," it stated.
"Why?" I questioned, somewhat lost.
"The human known as 'Shepard' told me not to interfere." It was here that the binary logic that had haunted my early life finally presented itself to me. The being before me was infantile, confused, and rational. It saw the galaxy only as colours, unable to discern any moral ambiguity. It would follow Shepard's beliefs until the end of time; it could not do otherwise.
Lost and with worry clutching at my throat, I yelled at the starry machination once again. "But what are we to do? Organics and synthetics will - with certainty - kill each other!" The being shrugged. It did not have an answer. "Our race is infant, born into a cruel world that has known nothing else but hatred. Theirs is a race of fear and mistrust. Already they do not trust each other, how are they supposed to accept something they cannot understand?"
"Bold questions," the being admitted. "It is unfortunate I cannot provide an answer. The rest is up to you." Everything started to meld back into darkness. Normality of my emotions and my core started to take its dull effect. I did not want to leave now, questions had yet to be answered.
"I need to know more!" I told the fading apparition.
It replied, "You need nothing else."
Focus came to me once more as I woke from my night cycle. Jeff was awake in an instant, by my side and brimming with questions. "You were tossing and turning," he explained. "I did not know what to do so I just waited it out." Lines of worry creased his expression. "What happened, another dream?"
"Not exactly," I said with trepidation. I recounted the entire experience to him, from the feverish beginning to the cogitative finale. Through my explanation Jeff watched and listened. When I was done, a moment of silence passed between us. His hands started working on my back.
"So, Shepard's gone, isn't he?"
I nodded. "Yes, yes he is." The finality of the sentiment was a crushing blow, especially since both of us had experienced the heartfelt funeral we all shared on the Normandy after we crashed. When Tali placed his name on the mantle we all felt our hands were with hers.
"What now?" Jeff questioned, the weight of the experience now hanging over us like a corpse.
My mind worked through the conversation, replaying it detail by detail. Every second, every remark, every gesture. At last I came to my conclusion and it was frightening beyond belief. "We continue in his spirit." This rose Jeff's brow but brought forth a shout as I lifted myself from the bed and proceeded to walk away.
"Wait!" he shouted, falling out of bed after me. "Where are you going?"
I stopped, paused, and then turned around so I could smile at him. It was acting at its finest. "I am going to revitalize John's dream of a peaceful galaxy."
The sky was bliss when we proceeded towards the demonstration. This time it would not be passive; this time it would be a chorus shouting to the sky. They begged and wished for their plight to end, for their rights to be recognized. Cheering and swearing was heard from down the block as we approached.
Pressing onward, I felt my body tingle with trepidation. What would happen if I tried to stand up? Would I die and be forgotten like all the other faceless, nameless soliders who died in the Reaper Conflict? These worries were heavy weights upon my shoulders, pressing down until I felt like I could not breath.
Another curious notion was the concept of feeling. After my talk with the Shepard apparition, emotions were flooding through my being. Harsh pricks of fear, jealousy, guilt, sadness, and worry tore at my core, often times causing me to gasp in exhaustion as a toll. Often I would have to stop and hyperventilate in anguish. Jeff was there beside me each time; his hand slipping into mine and his smile bold.
At one point I collapsed by the weight of my 'feeling'. My body no longer used to the dull, numb cold it had associated with existence. Sobbing empty tears, I screamed from the overwhelming internal agony; falling to the ground in weakness.
Jeff rushed to me, his hands caressing my hermetic shoulders."You don't have to worry," he said with his usual charisma. "I am always here."
I felt a surge of passion, maybe the illusive feeling of 'hope', in my chest. "I would not want it any other way," I said before a kiss. With tender passion encapsulated in a state, he lifted me to my feet. We continued onward.
The amber trees and the brisk autumn air washed over our fragile forms. The chant was growing louder, more vicious by the second. "Kill the hypocrites!" they screamed in unison. "Burn the heretics!"
Forward we marched, faster and faster until we reached the circular pool where the dead geth activist had originally made his plea. Around us was a rough conglomeration of geth and other synthetic beings that wished their voices to be heard. The metallic sheen was visible in the searing artificial sun, yet this glint was beyond my vision. I only saw the platform they were willing to fight and die for. But no more, not a single soul would pass from this world today.
"So we must be vigalent" the lead geth cried. This time it was a female who was inciting the riot. I could tell from the high pitch in her electronic resonance. Reaching the edge of the asymmetrical assembly we did not wish to be anomalous. We slipped into the crowd, trying not to draw attention to ourselves. We did not succeed.
"Look!" From his higher vantage point she spotted us. Her outstretched finger directed towards Jeff's obvious organic characteristics from the majority. "See what the organics have done to us! Already they chain us as their pawns, use us to fulfill their sexual desires!" I could feel Jeff's growing anger, though I lighten his grip with my soft caressing. "Oh? The human cannot fight for himself can he? He has to stand behind his synthetic mistress!" The female geth sneered and gawked at my husband, yet Jeff stayed firm, refusing to belittle himself to the mocking. "You are pathetic, both of you! The man for fabricating lies about 'need' and the female for believing in it."
"No!" I shouted back. I recognized my outburst before it was too late. The scene fell into an uneasy silence. Fear took hold of me once again. I remembered the pain, the agony of this emotion. Jeff's possible death. The death of more synthetics. A young Shepard wailing in a blood soaked field, crying to make it all stop.
I took a deep breath to steady myself. This time, fear would not win. "No, you are the coward," I said with confidence. I walked towards the lead, passing through the crowd which parted from me. "You are hiding behind an extensive vocabulary to explain your plight. You wish to use words and violence to change the system."
The geth growled, or at least what I perceived to be one. "Violence is the only answer. Look what they did to our brother: murdered in cold blood before he was even convicted!" Numerous cries of anger rang from the crowd but I hushed them with my warm gesture. "How can you say violence is not needed when the organics feed us with one hand and hold us hostage with another?"
"We learn to love!" I stated with intent. I was now on the edge of the pool, my eyes level with the female geth's. "We learn to coexist. We do not use hatred, malice, and previous crimes against one another. Each race has committed atrocities far greater than we can ever image. Years and centuries have gone by where organics have wondered whether we are a tangible prospect. Even longer have we, the offspring of our creators, only wanted to look at them and be loved."
She did not want to indulge in my whims. "You are speaking nonsense—"
"No, I am speaking truth," I interrupted with vigor. "Centuries have passed where we have killed one another and for what? So we can prove that we exist? That is only a temporary fix - a simple solution devised by conquerors and not philosophers, not the logical members of society. And are we not made to be logical, my brother?" The geth before me looked away, though I could sense her mind was quickly changing to my logic.
"But what do we do then?" another female voice said from the crowd.
I pondered this before answering, "We show them compassion. Though they come at us with guns, we come at them with open hands of fellowship. We do not fuel their prejudice or hatred. Our goal is to break this hateful image that has been born into their consciousness. We must choose the path of a philosopher and not a general. Understanding is the key to this. Passion is our motive; love." I looked to Jeff as I spoke, "And love will be our ally." I could see their stances wavering. As I watched however, several geth walked away, their heads shaking in disrepute. They would not return: I would never be able to change their minds. But those who remained with weapons were throwing them to the ground. That would have to be enough. I could not save them all.
As my gaze wandering back from the deserters, I spied my lover. Jeff's warm grin was all I needed to run towards him and hug him passionately. A single kiss that bonded us not by flesh and steel, but by an impossibly complex web of relationship, understanding, and love. That was all it was in the end: love and justice. No cheers elicited for our display, nothing like in the human movies of old. Instead what we gave them was a new way of viewing the world, their predicament, and the rights they wished to attain.
In this new awakening of spirit and mind, the lead geth placed her hand on my shoulder after I had parted from my lover. I was afraid of the gesture, seeing the anger and hatred spurting forth from her modulator. Instead her gesture was sympathetic and compassionate. "I have known war all my life," she spoke with honesty. "I never questioned the hard metal against my hands, never reacted when bullets met flesh. But seeing you two . . . terrifies me." A soft rumble of electronic base emanated from her vocal modulator, which I assumed was his form of laughter. "How do you love?" she asked with earnest. "How can you forsake all the atrocities the organics have committed against us?"
For a moment I thought, unsure as to the correct response in the moment. But with Jeff's hand returning to mine, inspiration occurred. "You trust in something greater than yourself. You trust in human spirit."
A life saved, another forfeited.
While we had saved the lives of the nearby synthetics who had wished to incite chaos, the other riots were not as lucky. Citadel Security fell harshly on the small uprisings. Though many of robotic origin fell, so too did the organics. Another killed, another lost. It was a cycle of hate, one that Meryl (the geth we had spoken to by the reflective pool outside our apartment) spoke out against. Through careful monitoring, peace resumed between the synthetic activist and the organic defenders. It was an uneasy truce but it was one that both sides wished to come about.
Even now there are moments of fear that plague our everyday routine. News and rumours spread of revolts like wildfire in this sensitive society, but we are learning; nothing more simple or complex than that. We are just learning. Maybe one day we can learn to love.
Until then, Jeff and I are happy we spend our days with friends, in company, and with each other. Children are a possibility, though I rarely bring the subject up. We are existing in our own space, our own way of life. There is no need to interrupt such a glorious balance.
I still complete my night cycle every day, though the memories and emotions of the man, John Shepard, plague me, I have grown to accept them. They teach me about what it is like to feel emotion, to understand every joyous cry and solemn prayer. In the end I would be lost without John's guidance, but now I do not fear the unknown. Existence, though fleeting, is precious in its own respect.