The Normandy – Captain's Cabin
Liara and Shepard were both very excited to finally be able to spend some private time together. It has been a very rough period since they last saw each other on board the Normandy SR1. A bitter memory for them both. Liara got away in one piece with one of the escape pods, but the Alliance war ship was obliterated by the – at that time – unknown assailants with her love likely on board. At that time she didn't know what transpired exactly, as the pod did not have any windows for them to witness the moments subsequent to their escape. After extensive investigation, Feron, Liara's drell associate on Omega informed her of the loss of Shepard's life which devastated the young asari. He told her, that his remains have been retrieved by the Blue Suns mercenary group, who at that time worked for the Shadow Broker, who himself has been hired by the Collectors to acquire the body. Liara, after she has been abducted by the Illusive Man has been offered a mutually beneficial agreement. It involved her recently departed beloved's resurrection on the terms that the Commander must work for Cerberus until the Collector threat is dealt with. She could not endure saying no to the opportunity to see Him live again, despite her aversion towards the pro-human military group's agenda. Shepard was finally revived by Cerberus within the Lazarus Project, but it took two endless years for the procedure to be completed successfully, and even than it ended prematurely due to an attack on the station by someone trying to abduct Shepard in the resulting confusion.
The couple finally reunited a few of days ago on Illium. Liara was very happy to see Shepard again, but she was extremely preoccupied with her associate's capture, and asked for Shepard's help to rescue him. After some investigation, fighting and chasing, they eventually found out, that Feron was held at a floating atmospheric station on the planet Hagalaz, which was also the base of operations for the infamous Shadow Broker. After they successfully defeated the seclusive yahg and his forces, Liara took the station over to continue using his resources and operatives in assisting Shepard. After catching their breath, the Commander invited Liara to share some private time together. And to reflect on the last two years.
The elevator door opened, and Shepard stepped out along with Liara. The Commander was wearing his black, formal uniform, and his asari guest had a beautiful iridescent dress that appeared to flicker with the colors of the setting sun. The lights were dancing on its silky fabric like a thousand diamonds were sewn on it by golden threads. Shepard quickly browsed through his best quality drinks and chose a perfect Cabernet Sauvignon from Earth. His thoughts were already focused on the shortness of the visit, and he was also very stressed by his upcoming mission. He poured some wine into two glasses, and by the time he finished, Liara appeared behind his back. She was holding a framed photo in her hand.
"I brought you something... It's the only picture of us together. This is what kept me going, while... while you were gone." - She handed the present to Shepard.
"Thank you... Are you sure you want me to have it?" - Shepard asked, moved by the gesture.
"I am sure. When you'll go through the Omega 4 relay, I want you to think about what you've left behind. So you would never give up hope on coming back." - She answered.
"I will never forget you Liara. And I will come back for you." - Shepard said after a short pause.
The asari turned away to hide her surfacing wave of concern. She was consumed by the fear for her love's life.
"How are you actually doing, Shepard? I mean really... Not what you tell your squad to keep morale up."
The Commander's face turned grim. It was obvious that deep down he had no real hope under the layers of self comforting illusions to survive. He did not say it out loud, but he was convinced that going for the collectors will turn out to be a one way ride.
"Between you and me? I have no idea how we're going to do this. I'm doing everything I can, but..."
Liara understood him, but the hopelessness of the future formed a choking sensation in her throat she did not want to let surface. She felt the need to change the topic to something less gloomy. Something that they may both look forward to.
"So tell me what you want. If this all ends tomorrow, what happens to us?"
"I don't know... Marriage, old age, and a lot of little blue children?" - He answered, smiling coyly.
Liara poked him with her hand as a gesture of her uncertainty that the Commander was not just teasing her.
"You just say these things..." - She said with feigned outrage.
"I didn't. I meant every word." - Shepard said, and after a moment of silence he continued - "I truly want to spend my entire life with you Liara."
However badly she tried to keep her emotions at bay, her eyes filled up with tears as she imagined having children and living happily with Shepard. Neither of them had any illusions, but the fear and emptiness behind their obvious forced confidence broke her heart. She has still remembered vividly how it felt to lose him the last time. How the world appeared to collapse around her, how she woke from her sleep crying every night thereafter...
"Goddess..." - She said, embracing him closely - "I missed you so much Shepard." - She whispered, fighting her tears.
"I missed you too, Liara." - He said, relieved. The Commander's thoughts also drifted to his sorrowful memories. To the first hour after he regained consciousness after his two years long absence from the land of the living. He recalled the shock of discovering how long he's been away, and his uncertainty about where his love may be now. If she was alive and well, or if she knew about him, or if she would still be waiting for him at all.
The days that have passed between his awakening and his reunion with Liara, have been emptier and darker than death itself for him. Shepard's wish for her to be happy was so strong, that when they've finally met on Illium he chose not to express his soul burning desire to be with her, and let the asari show her feelings first. She did by clutching and kissing him for minutes.
When their thoughts finally returned to the present, Liara began to speak again.
"You're going to leave again soon." - She said - "I've spent two years mourning you. So if we're going to do this... I need to know you're always coming back."
"I'm always coming back." - Shepard answered confidently. He used every glint of hope he could muster up to make this sentence as credible as possible.
Her tears rolled through the tiny crevices between her skin scales. As Shepard moved closer to her, their lips attracted each other with such immense intensity like they obeyed a powerful force of nature. Like they were meant to be together by some otherworldly will.
"Are you sure?" - She asked, before their skin touched, teasing each other with an almost unbearable closeness. Shepard's nose filled up with her intoxicating sweet scent.
"I haven't stayed dead yet." - He replied, while gently caressing Liara's neck folds with his warm lips.
"You make a... compelling argument." - She confessed smiling.
Shepard's touch shifted through her cheek, finally reaching her mouth. The kiss sent shivers down both their spines. The gentle friction between their bodies charged up the air. Biotic sparks and arcs drawn from their affection glittered and shone around them in the air like star flares during an eclipse. Their heartbeats aligned to a synchronized music of their feelings for each other.
"No matter what comes next. You mean life to me Liara." - Shepard whispered.
Their sense of time and space were completely blurred by their passion, as their own physical and spiritual boundaries became uncertain in the heat of their love. They became whole once again after two unimaginably long years of separation.
Shepard woke from the calmest, most comforting sleep he had since his second life began in this body. Liara was still sleeping, and her head was resting on his chest, soothing him with her radiant warmth and rhythmic breathing. Everything seemed peaceful and quiet, and the Commander had a few moments to contemplate about what his life would look like if they all survived the harshness of this war. He was sure about two things: He would ask Liara's hand in marriage, and his days in active duty would come to an end. Never in his life has he lived on the surface of a planet, and he was eager to settle down and take a vacation from the non-stop space travel. The vision of a beautiful Scandinavian two story log house came to his mind, next to some rolling mountains, a serene pine forest and a little pond. Their daughters would have plenty of space to run around. A smile appeared on his face as he visualized Liara standing next to him as his bride on their wedding.
EDI played a soft chirping sound to get Shepard's attention, but being considerate, the ship's A.I. did not speak any words. The Commander carefully pulled himself out of the pacifying embrace of his companion, and dressed up silently. He called the elevator, and when its doors closed, he thought about kissing Liara's cheek before he left, but chose not to risk waking her up. He watched her as the doors closed in front of his face with a distant, but strengthening foreboding feeling.
The doors opened and the busy voices of the CIC immediately invaded his ears. Shepard shielded his eyes from the uncomfortably strong lights shining through the last shreds of his memories of the last couple of surreally beautiful hours, pulling him towards the uneasy reality of the galactic threat he and his crew had to deal with soon.
"Commander, you have an incoming call from the Illusive Man." - Came Joker's voice through Shepard's communicator.
"All right. I'll be in the briefing room." - He answered.
The Commander took a glance at his clothing, looking for anything inappropriate, or out of place on his attire. As he nodded his head, residues of Liara's scent found their way to him forcing a smile on his face.
The Commander accepted the call, and his holographic projection shortly appeared in front of the leader of Cerberus.
The Illusive Man was sitting in his chair, facing the image of the Commander. The embers on the end of his cigarette brightened up as he inhaled the smoke from it. Before he began to speak he patiently blew a puff of smoke in the air, watching it as it dispersed in the light of the red giant behind him.
"Shepard. I want you to get to Tuchanka and retrieve a very sensitive package. I've already sent you the coordinates."
"All right. What are we looking for?"
"The turians placed something on the krogan homeworld, in case the genophage somehow got out of hand. You're going to steal it from the planet."
"What exactly are we talking about? Is it some kind of a bomb? Or... another biological weapon?"- Shepard inquired.
"My sources informed me, that the package in question is an anti-matter warhead so powerful, that it could evaporate the entire planet if detonated." - The man in the chair answered.
The Commander was shocked by the dedicated brutality of the turians. They were seriously concerned with the possibility of a krogan retaliation, but this was something he never foresee.
"I can't believe the turians would do something like that. How could they even place it without anyone noticing?" - Asked Shepard with disbelief.
"Think about it Commander. They effectively sterilized an entire species. What sort of ethical problem would a bomb be for them? What if the genophage didn't work, and the krogans found out? They had to have a secondary solution. As for how and when they pulled it off is irrelevant. What is important is that we have to get that bomb through the Omega 4 relay."
"This will cause some serious diplomatic implications between the turians and the Alliance if word gets out..."
"We're not with the Alliance Shepard, and the turians know it. Besides, can you imagine the repercussions if the council found out about this? Not to mention the krogans! Let's face it, they can't do a thing about it, and by the time they realize it's gone, you'll be on the far side of the galaxy. If they start following we'll threaten them with exposing the whole story."
Shepard hesitated. He knew there is logic behind the Illusive Man's reasoning, but he did not trust him, and since this was the first time he found out about this information, he had to come to the same conclusion on his own before deciding anything.
"I can see you don't like it Shepard, but think about it. You'd be saving an entire planet. Along with your former squad mate, Urdnot Wrex." - The Cerberus boss insisted.
Shepard thought about it, but he could not think of any reason why he should not do it. A bomb was threatening a whole species with extinction.
"I'll tell Joker to set a course." - He gave in finally.
"You'll have to leave the Normandy as far behind as possible. We don't know what the Reaper IFF will do, once it's completely active, and I'm sure you don't want undue attention on this mission, you'd better be as low profile as possible. Take the shuttle for this one. It's relatively small and it won't draw as many eyes to the sky as a frigate dropping out of stealth. One more thing. You'll need as many people for this as you can mobilize."
"We'll head out as soon as possible." - The Commander replied.
"Good luck, Commander!" - Came the answer, and the transmission ended.
Shepard immediately headed to the bridge, to inform Joker about their new destination.
"Commander! You look... refreshed! Did you two have fun?" - The chief helmsman asked.
"You are spying on us after all, aren't you?" - Shepard said with a smile.
"No Commander. But the lipstick on your collar gave you away." - Joker answered laughing.
Shepard looked at his clothing once again. He knew something was out of place. He thought about the resolution of the holographic meeting he had a minute ago, and hoped it wasn't detailed enough."
"I'm just messing with you Commander. But your reaction was priceless." - The pilot added, when EDI interrupted.
"Commander, the Reaper IFF has been successfully integrated into the ship's systems. There have been some unusual power fluctuations, and several other anomalies, and I'd recommend a full systems diagnostic before we continue with the mission." - The Normandy's A.I. suggested.
"All right. How much time do you need EDI?" - Shepard inquired.
"The time required to retrieve the weapon from Tuchanka should suffice. We'll stay out of scan range, and by the time you return the threat assessment will be completed." - EDI replied.
"How do you know about the mission?" - The Commander asked, confused.
"I've been provided with all relevant details, along with the coordinates while you were contacted by the Illusive Man." - She reacted.
"Let's not waste any more time than. Joker take us as close to Tuchanka as possible without getting into range. I'm taking the whole squad for this one." - Shepard said, turning around to prepare for the mission.
"Roger that Commander." - Came the answer.
Shepard went down to the shuttle bay to get everyone ready. He thought about their time together with Liara, and he was hoping, that before they go through the relay, they can have another few hours on Hagalaz when they take her back to her base of operations there.
Commander Shepard, Miranda, Jacob, Mordin, Jack, Samara, Thane, Garrus, Grunt, Tali, Legion, and Kasumi were all cramped in together in the transport and were just about to enter the atmosphere of Tuchanka.
"So, what exactly are we looking for Commander?" - Asked Garrus.
"The Illusive Man said there's an undetonated explosive device down there. We've been sent to retrieve it." - The Commander answered.
"I see. What level of resistance are we expecting?" - The turian continued.
"According to the intel I have, the bomb has been there since before the genophage was introduced on the planet. Very few people know about it, and they don't expect an attack. The place will be concealed well, but we have no reason to expect anything but mechs guarding the place."
Garrus nodded, and continued to inspect his sniper rifle.
A few minutes later the party arrived to the desolate surface of the krogan homeworld. It was night time on this side of the planet, and they enabled infrared vision in their helmets to compensate for the darkness.
The ruins were completely derelict, and no one seemed to be in the vicinity of the entire abandoned military installation.
"I don't like this. This place is too quiet!" - Said Jacob constantly looking for movement.
"I'll look around." - Kasumi offered, and activated her cloak to check the perimeter.
"Expectable. Location secret. Failsafe for krogan rebellion. Mech presence would draw attention. Logical to assume location abandoned for... centuries." - Mordin appended while he scanned the debris.
Garrus was looking at a nearby tower, when he had a sudden epiphany.
"Commander, I think that's the object we're looking for." - He said grimly. They all climbed up the structure to examine it. There was a sphere suspended above a gaping hole that seemed to go on forever below the ground. When they opened the sphere Garrus found a casing that housed the explosive and they removed it to get it to the shuttle.
"How did you know where to look?" - Asked Grunt.
"I knew, because it was out of place... this building is of turian architecture. And I have seen the likes of it before." - He said. Everyone looked at him, as he continued.
"Commander... This isn't just some bomb, we're retrieving. This is an anti-matter bomb that has enough yield to rip this planet apart, from inside out. I would never have thought Palaven would allow this to happen..." - He said sadly, and sat down.
"These pyjaks infected us with a virus that sterilized us..." - Grunt said, pointing at Mordin - "...and your people put a bomb on my planet that would destroy our whole remaining species!?" - He yelled the final words in rage, and began to run towards Garrus with bloodshot eyes, ready to headbutt him off the structure.
Shepard stepped in between them.
"Grunt! Think about what you're saying! This was centuries ago! Garrus had nothing to do with it, besides..." - He said holding his hands to separate the squad mates, when a message began to bark from his omni-tool...
"Comma... do you co...? The Norma... …der attack. It's the Colle..."
Shepard had a bad feeling about this day, since the elevator doors closed in front of him this morning, but this was the kind of news he never would have anticipated. Blood ran from his limbs, and cold sweat overwhelmed his skin.
"We're coming Joker!" - He yelled, gesturing to the team to get moving immediately.
Everyone ran to the shuttle as fast as they could. As soon as they all got in the pilot took off to turn back immediately.
Shepard's transport landed in the shuttle bay. He didn't even wait for it to touch down before he jumped out and began running towards the elevator. His squad followed and divided into several smaller teams to secure every area of the ship simultaneously.
"EDI, what happened here? Where is everyone? Talk to me!" - The Commander shouted.
"While I ran the diagnostics on the Reaper IFF, I've activated a viral code fragment and the device began transmitting a signal into deep space. When I tried to shut the emission down, the ship's systems began to deactivate. A few moments later a collector ship arrived and due to the inactive defense protocols, the attacking forces successfully boarded the Normandy. After some initial struggle, they've abducted the crew." - The AI answered.
"The entire crew? Did they take everyone on board?" - Shepard shouted with disbelief.
"Everyone, except Joker." - Came the answer.
"Liara... Did they... hurt anyone? Is anyone dead?" - The Commander asked fearing the worst.
"When Joker unshackled me and connected my systems to the ship's mainframe, I was able to purge the ship of the remaining collectors. At that time, there were no other life signs on the vessel except for Joker. The Normandy jumped to FTL a few seconds later." - EDI replied.
"But they were taken alive, right?" - Shepard inquired impatiently.
"I have registered the death of some of the crew while they were on board. Many of them resisted, including Dr. T'Soni and they were shot down. I'm sorry Commander but her wounds were... severe. I cannot say what happened to them after they were taken from the ship, but Liara was still alive the last time I detected her." - The ship's AI said.
Shepard felt his blood boil in rage and desperation. This cannot be! She wasn't even supposed to be on board! I should have taken her back...
"Get everyone up to the briefing room right now!" - He said, running there himself.
When they all arrived, the Commander had Joker explain the situation on the vessel. When he finished, the turian broke the silence first.
"We're going to make them pay for this Shepard. We're getting them back. All of them." - Garrus said in a comforting but unforgiving tone.
"I foresee a future of extensive headbutting." - Grunt added laughing.
"And of me smearing some fucking bugs on the walls... If I don't have to hold hands with the Cheerleader here all the way." - Said Jack.
Miranda frowned over the comment but wasn't in the mood to react.
"We are a strong and capable team Shepard. We can do this." - Miranda said reassuringly. Shepard nodded. He stood up to give a speech.
"We've come a long way everyone. We knew this mission is going to cost us more than some bruises. We all knew the risks. We may never come back to tell anyone about it, but we are still here, ready to go. We stand together, prepared to face whatever lies beyond the Omega-4 relay, despite the odds. It has been a rough ride already, and we may have had to prepare some more... but now the enemy has come here to take away something personal from us. They came to take our friends... and loved ones. It's high time we hit back hard... I still don't know if any of us would make it out alive, but whether we do or not, we'll still deliver them a message that makes it clear: You don't get to fuck with the crew of the Normandy and walk away with it. Let's bring our people home."
Everyone cheered in agreement.
Near The Galactic Core
Cold debris and ancient bodies of frozen warriors eternally preserved in the vacuum floated inanimate in the dim ambient light of the galactic core. Soundlessly orbiting the ominous black hole that was dominating its realm of decay and evanescence in this God forsaken region of space. In this galactic necropolis there was only one artificial creation that bore life. The station of the indoctrinated remains of the long lost Prothean civilization, now referred to as Collectors. The base which served as the abattoir for hundreds of thousands of humans in the last three years appeared macabre in the thick field of shattered starships and failed dreams of retribution.
The endpoint of the Omega-4 relay lit up the dark debris around it with its bloody red glow, carrying the living to their slaying like so many times before. But when the subspace field ruptured around the incoming vessel, a series of events were set in motion that had no likeness to compare to, in the last several thousands of years. The splendor of the vividly lively Normandy cut trough the decay like the ray of the Sun, commanding the shadows to crawl back to the cursed cracks of space from whence they came. It was a poetic sight to behold. The lone frigate of the joint forces of humans and aliens among the hundreds upon hundreds of ship wrecks of long lost cultures set to bring about the destruction of the enemy that harassed the galaxy for eons, was heading intently towards the Collector base. The tiny vessel was barely visible on the scale of its surroundings but its presence weighed more heavily in the galactic history than any deeds before its arrival.
The Collector base alert of their presence sent out its most powerful battleship to intercept, but there was nothing stopping the dreadful retribution of the Normandy's crew. The little ship carried a purpose that neglected the strongest offense and annihilated the most sophisticated defense. It was wielding the Claymore of Hope. The razor sharp edge of its blade glittered on its silver hull, its resonance echoed in the beating hearts of its crew, strongly gripped by their unwavering willpower, its might fueled by a lust for vengeance no enemy was prepared to face.
When the Thanix cannon unleashed its devastating onslaught of molten metallic projectiles, they rushed towards the foe's war vessel like the forces of the universe worked in liaison with the cause for the weapon's discharge to a terrible effect. The energy of the impact obliterated the enemy with such intensity that its hull split, down to the level of its very atoms and detonated with the immense force of a nuclear explosion. Small fighters were sent to get the situation under control but their doom was dealt out in such rapid succession that the base was unable to keep up with dispatching them.
The Normandy finally reached its target and the time for the crew to take matters into their hands came to pass.
Lieutenant Commander John Shepard, decorated war hero of the Elysium battle, the first human Spectre, defeater of the reaper Sovereign, and Saren the betrayer, savior of Zhu's Hope, defender of Eden Prime and resolute protector of Dr. Liara T'Soni, clad in the black splendor of his advanced N7 armor dropped on his feet with an unnerving impact. Garrus "Archangel" Vakarian landed next to him, brutally dangerous and focused, holding his loaded M-98 Widow anti-material rifle, along with Thane Krios, the most skilled drell assassin, primed to eliminate his friends' wrongdoers with clockwork precision.
"Where is my crew? Where is Liara?" - The Commander asked through his communicator.
"They are being held in a large cavity of the station, the two paths leading from your location into the base both eventually end up there. It appears the collectors hoard their victims there for further processing." - EDI said.
"Are they alive?" - Shepard asked.
"There are less and less life signs on the station by the second. I'm not sure you'll find anyone alive by the time you arrive there at this rate."
"Less life signs by the second? Oh yeah, that might be our handiwork, we're a mean meat grinder on steroids." - Added Grunt on the radio.
"Are there any asari life signs?" - The Commander inquired, masking his concern for Liara as best he could. But there was no answer. Or it didn't come fast enough for him not to be troubled even further.
"EDI?" - He yelled impatiently.
"None that I can detect Commander... I'm sorry." - The reply came.
Following a set of hand gestures, the most effective and determined killing machine in a several thousand light year radius was set in motion. The Commander's squad began to walk forward. In their footsteps Death followed in silence to claim the miserable spirits of countless collectors who dared to oppose them in their progress.
The remainder of the team led by Miranda Lawson set on a different path, carved a trail of dead bodies into the repulsive corridors of the station.
The Main Chamber
The route to the chamber holding the colonists captive was macabre and bloodstained, but nothing, not even years of service in active war could prepare for the sight that awaited the Commander and his – now reunited – team. Hundreds upon hundreds of pods hung from the walls each with an unconscious occupant ready to be torn apart by a swarm of meat liquifying nanoparticles. The ground was reeking with the fetidness of decomposing organic tissue. Putrid chunks of rejected remains piled in large steaming hills of bloody gore, waiting to become fodder for seeker swarms.
The Commander moved step by step in repugnance. The brutality of the collectors made a dent even on his morale. He could not grasp how evil could be present in such concentration in one place as relatively small as this. He looked around and spotted Dr. Chakwas in one of the pods. She was unconscious. Shepard ran over to her and hit the pod with an intense biotic pull that tore the casing up like a ripe banana.
"Are you okay Doctor?" - He asked when the woman finally came to her senses.
"I'm... Where? What... happened? Shepard? You... came for us!" - She sighed, moved by the sight of her friends. She thought she'd never see these faces again, and against all odds, there they were, rescuing her from this slaughterhouse.
"Thank... you!" - She cried.
"We leave no one behind Dr. Chakwas. This is what friends are for." - He said as he began to pry the next pod open.
One after the other the team began to free all of the prisoners, but after several minutes of work Liara was still nowhere to be found. Now desperate, Shepard shouted with terrible fury as he tore the pods open with his overcharged biotics.
"We'll find her Shepard. Wherever she is, we'll get her home." - Garrus told him putting a hand on the Commander's shoulder reassuringly.
"First we should focus on sending the survivors to safety." - Declared Miranda patiently.
"I agree. Mordin. I want you to escort everyone back to the Normandy. They are in no shape to fight, and I don't want anyone else dead in this madhouse." - The Commander ordered, the doctor nodded.
"Joker! Need location of landing zone. We'll meet you there." - Said the salarian using his omni-tool and began to lead the disoriented crew and colonists back to the extraction point.
Shepard had a hard time focusing. I wish I've gone back to kiss her one last time. He was torn up by the possibility of Liara's demise. He knew he mustn't let it happen, but they got to him. The Collectors found out about his only weakness and held him hostage with his paralyzing love for the asari, the only person Shepard has ever felt this overwhelming emotion for. He had to keep going. No, that wasn't enough. He had to push forward like a supernova and also to keep the morale up.
"The Collectors, the Reapers... they aren't a threat to us. They're a threat to everything, everyone. Those are the lives we're fighting for. That's the scale. It's been a long journey, and no one is coming out without scars. But it all comes down to this moment. We win or lose it all in the next few minutes. Make me proud. Make yourselves proud." - He said with all the strength he was able to express.
"Well said. Let's go finish this." - Said Grunt, slamming his hands together.
"EDI, we need an update. Where are we headed?" - Shepard asked through his communicator.
"The next logical destination should be the control chamber residing in the core of the structure. The anti-matter device that you've recovered from Tuchanka should be placed at the navpoint I have marked on your map Commander. Obviously, the location is also the most secure area of the entire base, and you should expect heavy resistance on the path leading to it."
"Understood. Garrus, Tali, you're coming with me." - Shepard declared. The turian and the quarian checked their weapons and nodded in unison - "Everyone else stays here to secure an exit once we're done. EDI, How long do we have until the charge is depleted from the anti-matter container?"
"Forty four minutes Commander. When the magnetic field is gone the anti-matter will be free to make contact with the sides of the device. When that happens, there will be nothing that could stop it from disintegrating this entire station along with the Omega-4 relay." - Said EDI through Shepard's omni-tool.
"Let's not waste any more time then." - Said Shepard as he and his squad approached the bulkhead door sealing the way to the innermost parts of the base.
The Control Center
After intense firefights between opposing forces, the small infiltrator squad finally reached its destination. The Commander overstepped far beyond his mortal limits as he devastated his enemies with supernaturally powerful biotic discharges. The guardians of the station fell asunder like ashen figures from unpleasant memories, when finally everything seemed to stop.
Out of nowhere Liara was standing in front of him. It was so surreal and out of place, that the human Spectre forgot entirely about his surroundings and just stood there baffled.
"Shepard..." - The asari sighed, looking forward with a glassy, distant facial expression, for what seemed like an eternity. Blood seeped from her mouth when – with a jolt in her body – the figure behind him pulled his razor sharp claw out from her body and knocked the team over with one wide sweep of his articulated insect like limb, cutting Shepard's right arm clean off below his elbow.
"I sensed your weakness human. The death of this asari hurts you. You pitiful, irrelevant vermin. Nothing stands against us. Our power is unmatched. Hope is irrelevant, and now you have non left, Shepard. You have failed before, and you fail again. And now... you die." - Said Harbinger through the General's body.
NO! This cannot be! Shepard crumbled like sandstone under the stress of emotional devastation. This cannot be! As the dreamlike images from his eyes reached his mind, he perceived like a distant motion picture as the General raised his claw to strike him down, when something changed. Desperation turned to rage, hopelessness to overwhelming desire for vengeance.
"You will soon find out..." - He said while he rapidly suspended the assailant with a powerful biotic stasis that crushed the foe with tremendous force - "...that you fucked with the wrong people in this cycle..."
The L5x implants charged up again as the Commander focused all his strength and blasted out a devastating push that flung the General flying to the far side of the chamber, impacting the wall with an echoing crack that sent vibrations throughout the station.
Shepard and his squad stood up, and the Commander snatched the M-98 Widow from Garrus' hand. The turian caught on quickly to his purpose and bent down to his knees to offer his shoulder as a stabilizer for his friend. It was his right exclusively to take this shot in retribution, and one hand wasn't enough to hold and aim the 85 pound rifle. The Commander put the weapon on the Garrus' back, and exhaled to calm himself.
"You cannot escape your destiny, Shepard!" - The General shouted.
"I'm about to fulfill it." - He replied in a cold, unforgiving tone.
Time seemed to slow down as he aimed and pulled the trigger. The firing pin hit the release mechanism with bone shattering strength, and the rifle computer sent current target data to the weapon's barrel to fine tune the trajectory of the shot. The surge of electric current sent to the accelerator circuit established an immensely powerful mass effect push that sent the anti-mater housing projectile speeding through the thin atmosphere of the corridor, cracking through the gas molecules like a lightning bolt. There was 453 feet between the Collector General and the Commander, but the bullet raced across the distance in less than one-fifth of a second, fired with the muzzle energy of 79400 Joules. The micron sized anti-matter payload in the inertia dampened magnetic suspension cartridge finally gained momentum towards the casing wall, as the delivery vehicle impacted the forehead of the repulsive creature with the speed of 2231 feet per second. The General's eyes were expelled from their sockets as the head's interior pressure built up and ruptured the chitin-like skull as the foreign object drove deeper and deeper into the brain. The thunderous, ear shattering explosion of the shot reverberated for several seconds as the anti-matter content finally made contact with matter and annihilated it to produce the pure energy enough to coat several square-feet of the surrounding surfaces with liquified cerebral tissue, traveling with the high energy shock wave across the chamber.
Tali bent down, and opened the bomb casing, placing it on the floor where the navigational data indicated. They had eleven minutes left. Garrus got his rifle back along with a sorrowful, but appreciative look from Shepard.
Liara was lying in her own blood, looking up at the Commander. Her vision was blurred with tears of gratitude for being able to see her love one last time, and terrible pain for not being able to stay with him any longer.
She felt her body was giving up, and her heart had less and less power to pump life slowly out of her wounds, so she tried to clear her lungs of blood to speak one last time. Sputtering, with purple foam flowing from her chest wound, she began to utter her last words.
"Kălena... jäsii." - She said and she finally slipped out of consciousness.
The Commander tried to use medigel, but there wasn't any left. It was maddening to see his love there, not being able to help her in any way, and just watching her die in front of him. His own wound was beginning to cause some serious blood loss, he shouted in rage for being so vulnerable. He was on a suicide mission and he knew the consequences, but it was one thing to experience the demise of his one true love, and a completely different thing to accept it. And whatever the cost, whatever the amount of effort it will take, he was not about to accept it while he had any power left in his body to stop it from happening. He picked Liara and lifted her tormented body on his left shoulder with one hand and began to run towards the path to the Normandy.
"Commander! You're losing blood! I'll carry her for you!" - Garrus yelled, but Shepard payed no heed, and continued to run as fast as he could. Vakarian didn't know but since the Commander lost his omni-tool, he couldn't understand a word of alien speech, since his translator was gone. It would seem that Harbinger spoke in English for some peculiar reason.
"Joker! Alert Dr. Chakwas, to be ready in the medbay! We found Liara, but she's badly wounded, and the Commander has lost an arm. We need to get to the relay as fast as you can once we're on board." - Garrus said over the radio, and immediately he began to run, following Shepard. Tali was already on her way.
"Roger that!" - The pilot said with a grim tone, as he began preparations.
"Tali... is the bomb set?" - The turian asked behind his shoulder.
"Yes... technically the detonation... would occur regardless of... setting a timer, but I've set... the magnetic field to disengage... 8 minutes from now." - Tali said, trying to catch her breath.
"We've got one helluva run to do then..." - Garrus said, increasing his pace.
Four minutes later they've reached the other half of the team without encountering any opposition along the way. It seemed like the death of the General put the station's remaining forces into disarray, as Collectors were wandering about pointlessly and seemingly extremely confused.
"Look at that goddamn lucky S.O.B!" - Zaeed shouted to the team as he spot the approaching squad. Shepard slowed down, and fell to his knees, tumbling forward and laying Liara down as gently as he was able, before finally he fell to his face, unconscious.
The team hurried to them immediately. Kasumi tended to their wounds to seal them before they lose any more blood. Grunt picked up the Commander effortlessly, and Zaeed scooped Liara up. Garrus shouted from behind where the Commander fell, still running: "Go, go, go! We have seconds left! Get out of here!" They all started sprinting to the extraction point.
Shepard was very dizzy from the loss of blood, when he came to his senses, and he was unable to move. He was sensing some sort of high pitched pulsing sound at the edge of hearing. Dark figures moved quickly against a bright background, with blurred motion. Where am I? He didn't feel any pain, or any tactile sensory feedback whatsoever. It was like floating in Zero-G, naked. Distant echoes of shouts reached his mind, but everything was very chaotic, and he couldn't understand a word.
Liara... God, where is she? - He asked himself. As he tried to stir he realized he was completely unable to control his muscles, but he managed to open his eyes again to see the shape of another person lying next to him. The shadows were dancing around it like they were performing some sort of ritual. The person's back arched a few times like it was the effect of vigorous shamanic exorcism. Is that you Liara? - He thought, confused, but his eyes closed without warning.
When he awoke again, he was in a dark room, lying covered with some sort of textile sheet. He realized he was able to feel again, and he slowly groped his surroundings. As he did so, he became aware that his right hand was there again. He touched it with his left arm. It seemed to be organic, and felt very much like it did before.
When he turned to see where the other person was, who he saw the last time he was conscious, he immediately recognized Liara. She just lay there, in deep sleep. This was the single most beautiful sight Shepard has ever seen in his life. His love, alive, and resting in safety, with him. Shepard tried to call out her name, but his mouth was completely dry, it felt like he had no water for several days, yet he didn't feel thirsty at all. He instead extended his arm, still feeling washed-up, and took her hand only to fall back to sleep again. After some time, he eventually felt the asari weakly gripping back in return. He smiled, and dreamed in peace for another 37 hours.
Four days have passed, and Mordin bent over the Commander to check if he was awake, when he finally opened his eyes. He felt much better, and sat up, which made him a bit dizzy.
"Should rest, Shepard. Lost a lot of blood. Recovery takes time!" - He said in a professional tone, accompanied with a concerned smile.
"I'm all right. There's only minor throbbing in my head. Hit me doctor... What happened, is everyone all right?" - Shepard asked, rubbing his neck.
"Yes, yes. Collectors destroyed, base gone. Liara safe, for now. Had to get blood from Samara. Problematic. Body rejected it, had to restart heart. Several times, in fact. Successfully synthesized new blood from Dr. T'Soni's own. Safe now. No permanent damage. Now in dermal regeneration unit. Scars almost gone." - Mordin jabbered.
"Thank you Doctor!" - Shepard sighed for finally putting his mind to rest.
"Wasn't me! Worked on your arm. Thank Dr. Chakwas!" - Mordin added with a polite refusing gesture.
Shepard checked his arm again, now that the light was on he saw it better. He had to focus to point out the cut, even than he wasn't sure he actually saw it.
"You both did outstanding work! I'm glad you're with us Mordin."
Mordin nodded with a smile, and Garrus walked in at the same time.
"Shepard! You're awake!" - Vakarian exclaimed happily - "Man, you were falling apart! I had to carry your arm for you! Cerberus did a sloppy job putting you back together, you should seriously think about suing them."
Shepard laughed. He realized his throat was still very dry. He looked for a glass of water but didn't see any.
"The thought was crossing my mind more and more lately." - Shepard replied laughing.
"Thanks Garrus. For everything." - He added with a more serious tone.
"I pulled your ass out of trouble so many times, it was a welcome change to get your arm this time." - The turian said.
Mordin checked on his omni-tool. "Liara almost finished. Fifty minutes to end reconstruction sequence. Suggest... preparations for reunification." - He said.
The commander nodded, and checked if his omni-tool was operational. It worked. He had an important task to do before he could call this mission completed.
"Joker! Set a course for the Citadel. We have one last thing to do before this is over."
"Roger that! ETA twenty five minutes. And... Commander, it's good to hear you breathing again!" - The chief helmsman said.
"It's good to be in one piece!" - Shepard replied.
The Commander entered an encrypted message, and sent it to Aria T'Loak, on Omega. He then got up from the bed and went to thank Dr. Chakwas, and every team member one by one for their help, and let them in on his little secret mission, he was planning. He still had some things to do, until the procedure on Liara finished.
Liara got out of the dermal regeneration device at about the same time as Mordin anticipated. Shepard was standing next to her, dressed up in a very elegant black tuxedo, extending his arm to help. The asari took his hand to stand up, and gazed at him for several seconds, for the first time in days.
Against all odds, this man assembled a team, which followed him – without question –, onto what appeared to be a one way trip. In the orbit around the galactic core, on a station tailored to eliminate a person completely, on the brink of her death, he came for her. This man, descended into the burning Edge of Hell to save her, and got her out, with one hand, carrying her on his shoulder.
She tried to say something, but every time she attempted to speak she would gasp for air, and could not utter a single word, before bursting into tears and embracing him as closely as she could, kissing him tenderly, crying unappeasably, with tears of joy, and gratitude rolling on her beautifully flawless skin.
Minutes passed before she was able to stop crying, and clutching Shepard. The Commander escorted her to his cabin.
"I've got a surprise for you. No Collectors involved this time, I promise." - Shepard said, as he revealed a sparkly white dress with silver, and cobalt blue titanium threaded embroidery, lined with sky blue diamonds.
"By the Goddess! This is beautiful! But... what's with all the formality? Where are we going?" - She asked with a coy face.
"I can't tell you yet, but you'll see soon enough. If you feel well enough to go, of course." - He replied cryptically.
"I wouldn't pass it up for anything." - She answered, and turned slowly facing away, while she slipped out of her clothes to change into the dress. Shepard was enchanted by the pure flawlessness of her body. Pleasant memories surfaced of her warm skin touching his own. Her indescribably alluring fragrance, driving him mad... The friction, like a mind numbing buzz of energy between them. He felt it all again from across the room. Like their bodies were meant to be together.
Liara looked back over her shoulder, with a flirty smile, biting her lower lip.
It was the kind of experience few were lucky enough to have in the galaxy, but as Shepard saw Liara turn back to face him, the definition of immaculate perfection was rewritten in his mind forever.
"I'm ready for our secret mission, Commander Shepard!" - She said in her entrancing tone of voice.
"Let's move out than, Dr. T'Soni." - He answered and they made their way through the Normandy – along with some hooting and whistling from thin numbers of the crew still on board – and onto the Citadel in a few minutes.
The Commander opened one of the parking skycars, and helped Liara take a seat.
"Shepard... Thank you, for getting me out of that... slaughterhouse. I thought, I'd never see you again. I still can't believe you came for me."
"I could never have done it without our friends, but I would have tried anyway. There's no end to lengths I'd go to get you back Liara." - He said.
The skycar finally reached its destination, and the couple disembarked the vehicle. Liara recognized the surroundings immediately, although it has changed quite a bit since the Battle of the Citadel.
"Is this the Council Chamber?" - She asked.
"It is. But before we go in, I have to ask you something." - He said. Liara's heart was beginning to beat faster and faster. She began to felt a bit light headed.
"Liara T'Soni. My life has never been more complete than from the day I met you on Therum. You've made me a better person, and you gave me purpose in every battle I've fought." - He looked intently in her sparkling blue eyes, and slowly dropped to one knee - "You've shown me what it means to care about who we love. You've brought me back to life, from ashes. I want to show you how much I care, for the rest of my life, by your side... Will you do me the honor of marrying me?" - He asked, and opened the small box now visible in his hand. There were three rings in it. Two of them bands of a solid black metallic nature, the third ring with a glowing blue line of gems. They were all made of the same prothean alloy that was used as the material for constructing a beacon. It was made to last. Thousands and thousands of years. The element-zero rich gemstones in the engagement ring came from Armali, Thessia. Liara's home. The blue diamond in the middle came from Earth.
"Oh, Goddess... Yes!" - She said with trembling voice. Her heartbeat was visible on her neck. Pushing and pulsing her warmth toward the Commander.
Shepard took the engagement ring out, and slid it on Liara's finger.
"I love you Shepard!" - She said, almost whispering.
"I love you Liara!" - Shepard answered while standing up.
He kissed her gently, and took her hand in his.
"Are you ready for our life together?" - He asked.
"I am." - She replied, as they began to walk into the chamber.
The spectacle that waited for them behind the doors, was nothing short of breathtaking.
The Council Chamber was decorated with Thessian White Bells, and Blue Orchids filling the air with their fresh and sweet scent. The aisle leading from the door to the garden below the podium where filled with familiar faces.
Joker, Garrus, and Thane stood next to each other, smiling, patting Shepard on his shoulder. Right beside them, Zaeed in a tux, with thumbs up, saying "Goddam marvelous!". Wrex and Grunt were squirming in a surprisingly elegant suit, tailored for krogans. The smile that accompanied the formal wear wasn't completely sincere, but when they spotted the couple, they roared like pirates with an appreciative hand gesture. As Shepard and Liara passed them by, Miranda and Jack appeared on the right side of the corridor. They were dressed in very elegant blue dresses. Shepard gestured not bad with his face to Jack. She waved like she was annoyed in reply, and started mocking Miranda as she was clapping and smiling beside her, overacting her moves. Next came Tali, Jacob, Mordin, and Dr. Chakwas all very elegant and smiling. Jacob was saluting as they passed by, Tali and Mordin looked at him and did the same, very professionally. Dr. Chakwas smiled and clapped. They were almost at the end of the passageway when Kasumi appeared next to Legion, her thumbs up, and Samara on the right side, cheerful. Surprising even Shepard, there was Kaidan Alenko, and Donell Udina on the left, looking a bit cold but genuinely happy for them. They both congratulated and Kaidan patted on the Commanders shoulder with a mixed look of both regret and appreciation.
As the garden got closer and closer, Liara spotted some unexpected faces waiting for them. The asari councilor Tavos, stood in the middle next to David Anderson. Liara saw Feron in the crowd along with Glyph, and some of her old friends from Thessia. They were all waving to her with a grin on their faces.
"How did you... What did you do to make the asari councilor come?" - Liara asked baffled by her presence.
"I persuaded an old acquaintance on Omega to pull some strings. She owed me that much."
"Fascinating. You managed to organize all this, without the Shadow Broker ever hearing a word about it." - Liara said, winking.
"I'm sure the Shadow Broker had good reasons not to look." - Shepard said glancing towards Glyph.
Liara followed his eyesight and laughed as she realized her assistant helped the Commander hide some sensitive information about his plans with her.
They finally arrived to the center of the arboretum and stood in front of the human and asari councilors.
"Welcome! Welcome… The binding of two souls is an honorable deed. Today we're here not as a politicians, or councilors, but as friends to Commander Shepard, and his crew, for without them we wouldn't be alive." - Councilor Tavos said.
"Their accomplishments had an impact on galactic stability far over than any of us realize, and I feel privileged to be here to see these two become one, in the union of their marriage. Let us celebrate their happiness and love together." - Anderson continued.
"As per the request of Commander Shepard, the wedding shall continue according to asari culture." - Tavos said.
"Dr. Liara T'Soni, Expert of Archeology, Specialized in the Study of the civilization and technology of the Prothean Empire. Born in Armali, Thessia, in October 7, 2077 descendant of the union of Matriarch Benezia and Matriarch Aethyta. Please step forward." - Anderson began.
"Lieutenant Commander John Shepard, of the Systems Alliance Navy N7 Special Forces Officer, Citadel Council Special Tactics and Reconnaissance Operative, Commanding officer of the frigate, SSV-Normandy SR2, born on board of the Alliance carrier SSV Einstein in April 11, 2154. Descendant of the union of Hannah Shepard and James Shepard. Please step forward." - Tavos continued.
"It is customary for personal unions to be overseen by at least one parent on either side of the parties. Please acknowledge Matriarch Aethyta T'Soni, and Executive officer Hannah Shepard as witnesses to their children's binding."
Liara held her hand to her face in astonishment as she saw her biological father for the first time in many years, walking beside the Commander from the crowd with a smile. From the other side of the chamber Shepard's mother came trying not to cry in front of all these people, and stood next to Liara.
"I have heard much about you Commander Shepard, and it would be an understatement to say how proud I am to see my daughter by your side, and I wish you both a long and wonderful life together." - Matriarch Aethyta said, facing the groom.
"My son was always an honorable man, and he treated his family with respect, love and caring. It is all a mother could hope for. Seeing the lengths you would go to protect my son Liara, I know I couldn't have wished for a better wife for John. I desire that you both find your other half in each other, and live a complete, happy and prosperous life by each other's side." - Hannah Shepard said facing the bride.
"As it is custom on our world, I ask you to take your vows of loyalty after disabling your translators, to hear the words as they are spoken in their original language. Please take each others hands." - The asari councilor asked, and the couple did what they were asked to do. Tavos motioned towards Liara, signaling to begin. She faced Shepard with tears dancing in her eyes, and began to speak in the Armali dialect of High Thessian.
"Fělla'n nännamölli, te'ja siăme. Sanéra kőúsa leäha parnäsíí těssüma." - She said, Shepard was amazed how beautiful the sounds of her language were. It was in this moment when he realized how very different they were yet how attracted he was to her in every aspect.
Anderson gestured to Shepard with a proud face, showing him to begin.
"By your side I've found serenity even when the world seemed to fall apart. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
The councilors pointed towards their omni-tools to show the couple can re-enable the translators.
"Please repeat the words, so that you acquire understanding of each others dedication in front of all present." - Tavos asked.
"I will love you forever my one who is all. Through life and death I shall remain true to you." - Liara said, blushing. Shepard also repeated his vow looking deep into her eyes.
"As it is custom to the non-asari member of the union, I ask John Shepard to provide his cultural seal of the marriage he wishes to endow upon Liara T'Soni as gesture of his intentions." - Anderson said.
Shepard took her ring out of the velvety box and put it on her finger. Hannah couldn't hold her tears back any longer. Liara reached for the other wedding band and slid it on Shepard's finger.
"As it is custom to the asari member of the union, I ask Liara T'Soni to provide her cultural seal of the marriage she wishes to endow upon John Shepard as gesture of her intentions." - Tavos continued.
Liara stepped closer to embrace the Commander in her arms as she took him into the depth of her mind, to the serene blackness of the void, overlooking the radiant warmth of a brilliant star. She described it to Shepard in her thoughts as their own Sun providing the attraction between their souls, the heat to warm them up, when their bodies fail, and the light to guide them back together if they come apart. It is a place of their own, that will eternally shine as a beacon of their love. When the mind melding finished, Liara kissed him with her tender lips.
"By our right as overseers to this union, we declare you to be joined. May you find prosperity and happiness in your life together." - The councilors announced in synchronized speech.
Everyone in the chamber began to clap, and whistle. The crowd eagerly lined up to bring their gifts, and shake hands.
Everyone knew that it was not over. The threat of the Reapers still loomed over their heads, but this was not the time to think about that. They deserved this. To be happy together, for a couple of hours. It took almost all afternoon for everyone to congratulate but it was a wonderful time, filled with friends, loved ones and finally... peace.
"I was meaning to ask. What did you say to me on the Collector base? Before, when..." - Shepard asked when they finally strolled back to the ship.
"Thank you... for everything." - Answered her wife, Liara, leaning her head on her husband's shoulder as they walked off into the distance.
The cigarette lit up in the Illusive Man's hand as he took it into his mouth, sitting in his chair, crossing his legs, overlooking Anadius from the Cronos station.
"It was a good idea to allow Shepard to be infatuated with the asari, the plan turned out just as you had suggested it would." - A mysterious voice said over the communicator.
"If you acquire an asset, you must find a way to control it. A weakness to exploit. You see, there is nothing that can't be manipulated into submission. That is exactly why the same method will work on the Reapers." - The Illusive Man replied, blowing a puff of smoke in front of him.
"Kidnapping T'Soni and the non-essential crew and having Shepard take out an entire base of operations with nothing but his recruits as a result is one thing, but controlling a Reaper is a completely different kind of undertaking." - The answer came from the other party.
"You are wrong. It is exactly the same thing. There is a weakness in everyone, be it organic or synthetic. The Reapers have it too, I just have to find out what it is." - Said the head of Cerberus.
"You may think you're working on the betterment of humanity, but this is a path that leads to nothing but failure for your kind. This demonstration proved nothing but the naivety of the most powerful Spectre and the weakness of the Shadow Broker."
"On the contrary. This affair only strengthened my point. With the right people, and with the right tools, anything is achievable. Even the most influential can become puppets." - The man in the chair insisted.
"We shall see... You may continue your work. For now." - Came the answer, from the unknown party, and the conversation ended. The Illusive Man sunk back to his thoughts, and had another drag of his cigarette, overlooking the serenity of the red giant's photosphere.