Chapter 6: Consequences
Miranda came to my quarters. It had been a while since she'd done that. The last time she was up here was... just after we blew up the Collector Base. (1) "Hey there," I greeted her with a smile. That was the first time in a while that I'd done that. Smiled, I mean.
"Hey," she smiled back, somewhat wanly. "You didn't show up at your usual time. When EDI told me you hadn't made your usual rounds, I thought I should check in."
My smile vanished.
She was right, of course. I missed one of my rounds. That had never happened before. But then, I'd never blown up a mass relay before. Or taken out an entire system. Or killed over three hundred thousand lives.
It was the last one that stood out. Don't get me wrong: I'm not exactly a saint. I'd taken part in a number of missions I wasn't completely proud of. Done some damn distasteful things. And I'd certainly killed more than my fair share of people.
But the people I'd sniped or shot or set on fire were usually criminals or mercs or terrorists or some other kind of hostile and belligerent party. They weren't slaves or innocent civilians. They had a chance to pick up arms and fight back rather than stand there, completely helpless and oblivious to their fate. And no matter how many people I'd killed, it was usually one or two people at a time. Eleven at the most. I'd never taken thousands of lives at once.
You know what the worst part was? That I had actually done it. Me. Consciously. Deliberately. And I would do it again if I had to. Because it was the only available option that gave the galaxy as I knew it a chance to stop the Reapers.
It wasn't something I was happy about. I wasn't proud of it. So I... just... came up here. After watching the Bahak system blow up on the galaxy map, I had gone straight to my quarters. Where I wouldn't have to talk to anyone. Or see anyone. Or look in anyone's eyes. And deal with all the sympathy. The shock. The platitudes. The recriminations.
But I think, deep down, I knew I wouldn't be able to hide up here forever. I took a deep breath. "How many?"
Miranda knew what I was asking. "Based on hacked Hegemony census records, and the reports from the crews who assisted us with the evacuations, approximately 305 thousand lives were lost. Plus or minus 270."
"Damn," I winced.
"Shepard," Miranda said quietly. "We saved almost ten thousand lives. Ten thousand lives that would have been lost if it wasn't for your insistence that we concentrate our efforts on evacuating the citizens and... other inhabitants of this system. Ten thousand lives in two days. Less than two days, considering the searching and hiring of starship crews and all the planning we did from scratch. That kind of success is unheard of."
"Ten thousand saved," I stated. "Three hundred and five thousand dead. That's... a lot more dead than alive."
"We were only able to save about 3.17 percent of the Bahak system's inhabitants, give or take 0.1 percent," Miranda admitted. "But that's still better than nothing."
"My point is that we stopped the Reapers. And we saved ten thousand lives. I'm not trying to discount everyone who died, but we did achieve a partial victory at least. If you can't accept that, no matter what you do, it will never be enough."
"That's exactly right," I said grimly. "All the men, women and children who didn't make it out of the Bahak system—they're not partially dead. The Bahak system is not partially destroyed. Even if we did stop the Reapers, even if we did save the galaxy, it's not enough. Not by a long shot. The cost was way too high.
"And yeah, maybe I'm being a little hard on myself. Maybe I'm setting my standards a little high. But I have to. I have more training, experience, resources and firepower than most sapients out there in the galaxy. I have the discretionary power and authority to go wherever and do whatever I see fit. There has to be a price for all that. I have to bear the responsibility for all that power. They have to go together. (2) Otherwise... what am I?"
"You're someone who accepts that power and responsibility, even if you didn't ask for it," Miranda replied. "You exercise it and use it to the best of your ability, without letting it go to your head. Because you want to help people. And you do. You give so much of yourself to help other people—even complete strangers—no matter the cost. That's one of the reasons why..."
She trailed off. I had a feeling I knew what she was going to say. I knew because I had wanted to say the same thing for... way too long. And as bad as things had gone, it could have been even worse. I could have... I could have died. Without ever saying how I really felt.
"Um... Miranda... there..." I tried, desperately trying to formulate the mental rough drafts that had been partially written in my head before giving up. "There's something that I've been wanting to say for a while now. I was always waiting for the right time or the right place. The right atmosphere. Maybe some music. And the formal, eloquent speech that would perfectly capture what I want to say. But that's never going to happen. So I'm just going to say it, raw and honest and unfiltered, and hope I don't completely screw it up."
She didn't run from the room. No one tried to contact either of us over the comm. This was as good as it was gonna get. I took a deep breath.
"I love you."
Miranda was still here.
"I'm going to say that again, just because it feels... incredibly, unbelievably great to say that: I love you. I feel like I... it's like those words have been bottled up inside, just screaming to be let out. I. love. you. If there's anything I've learned from this clusterfuck, it's that words count. People count. And you have to say the words that matter to the people who matter to you whenever you can, as soon as you can. Before it's too late. So... yeah. That's, um, about it. I love yo—mmph!"
Miranda interrupted me with a kiss. Well, technically it was a kiss of the lips on lips variety. There may have been some tongue involved. I'm not entirely sure. All I remember was this intense heat that seemed to flow from her body and into mine—or was it the other way around?—like a primal surge of liquid heat. I could feel her heart pounding as she pressed her body against mine. My heart was pounding too. And I think there was this ringing sound in my ears. There was this amazing tingling sensation too, which I hoped was not the sign of poor circulation because that might lead to unconsciousness and I definitely wanted to stay awake for this.
It felt like the kiss lasted forever, though naturally it couldn't because even a genetically enhanced human body needs oxygen at some point. Eventually we managed to pull ourselves apart, hearts still pounding and ears still ringing. At least, mine were, because I couldn't quite make out what she said. My eyes were still working, though, so I saw her mouth... at least... I think she said...
"I love you too."
Miranda smiled. "You're right. It does feel great to finally say that."
"I know, right?"
"I need to tell you something."
"I... haven't been completely honest with you."
And that was the part where my heart just shrivelled up and died.
"Not about what I just said. I meant it. I do love you."
It's alive! Alive! (3) Wait a sec... aw, crap. Did that mean—
"And it's not about the sex. That was fantastic."
Oh thank God! Wait. If it wasn't about that... and it wasn't about that... "I'm confused," I admitted.
"Well, you're male, so that's to be expected."
Hah. Funny. And people say Miranda doesn't have a sense of humour. "You're stalling," I told her.
"Yes, I suppose I am. It's, well, it's easier than talking about... remember when we were going through the Shadow Broker's dossiers?"
Yeah. I did. And I remember how she was completely fine when we searched through her extranet search history and her aborted attempts at extranet dating, but totally lost it when it came to some e-mail. "I remember," I said slowly. "And I remember saying that if you didn't want to tell me, that I was fine with that. I meant every word."
"I know," Miranda said. "Just like I know you meant it when you said you... loved me. But... you were right when you said that some things have to be said before it's too late. Now it's my turn."
She activated her omni-tool. It only took a few seconds for her to pull up the e-mail in question:
From: Illium Medical Center, Prenatal Care Department
RE: TEST RESULTS, PATIENT 12-66AD-1
As per your request for privacy, this message will be removed from our database upon confirmation of send integrity.
While we cannot firmly attribute the cause of the benign neoplasm to the irregularity in your genetic makeup, we can confirm that the progressive damage renders you unable to conceive a child.
About 12 percent of human women ages 18–54 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant according to data obtained from the Institute of Species Research (ISR). There are many support groups if you wish to discuss your condition and several options available should you wish to consider the adoption of a child.
If you require further consultation, please contact our communication officer.
Dr. Banner Grenway
Department Medical Director
Illium Medical Centre
Oh. Oh God. "Miranda," I said, "does that mean you have…"
"Cancer?" she finished, somewhat matter-of-factly. "Yes, I did. Benign tumour on my pituitary gland. The resulting increase in hormones resulted in infertility. All that was needed to fix the problem was basic surgery, plus some minor gene therapy to prevent any reoccurrence. Easily available with modern-day medicine. (4) Hardly something that would prevent me from ever having a child. Dr. Grenway and the so-called experts at the Illium Medical Centre should have known that. Which is why they're currently in the midst of multiple class-action lawsuits. Fucking overpriced hacks."
"Oh… that's good… I guess. I'm glad you're okay." For once, I didn't know what to say. All I knew was I had to tread very carefully here. "So your… reaction when we last saw the e-mail… were you just… reluctant to pore through your personal medical history or something?"
"Not really," Miranda sighed. "It's just… it's silly, really."
"It's cancer," I pointed out. "Once upon a time, it was a death sentence. Now it's more or less treatable, but it still has the potential for a whole bunch of nasty surprises. So I don't think it's 'silly'."
"It's the surprise part more than anything," Miranda admitted. "Not health-wise, but… all the work that had gone into designing and optimizing my genome, all the scenarios and simulations, were intended to prevent this sort of thing from happening. I shouldn't have had cancer. The fact that I did just proved, yet again, that I wasn't perfect. I know it seems silly. Self-absorbed. Petty, even. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people out there in the galaxy who could only dream of having such a minor problem as a benign tumour."
"True," I agreed. "But it must have been a… an unpleasant discovery." After all, Miranda had spent most of her life defining herself as the model of perfection, and desperately striving for any accomplishment, any achievement that justified that definition. To have this thrown at her would be yet another addition to a long list of perceived imperfections and failures. Perhaps the most significant addition to date.
I was about to say something else, but then something struck me. The dossier that the Shadow Broker had on her also included her dating history. In it, she'd expressed a strong interest in the genetic history of prospective… candidates, for lack of a better word. At the time, I thought it was just Miranda being Miranda. In light of what she'd just told me, though… "Does this have anything to do with that extranet dating profile you had a while back?"
Miranda gave me a slight smile. "I thought you'd put the pieces together. Yes, at the time I was looking for suitors who might be, well, compatible. I guess I was just looking for donors, rather than an actual father figure."
That made sense as well. Mr. Lawson wasn't exactly the poster child for 'Father Figure of the Year.' Or decade or century or any other timeframe you'd care to choose. With that picture of fatherhood as her only reference, she probably didn't want to subject any offspring of her own to that fate.
"And if you found a… compatible donor?" I asked.
"Then I'd have an option that I could choose in the future, should I desire it," Miranda replied. "I guess it was really important to have that."
"A choice?" I prompted.
"Yes," Miranda nodded. "I think… as much as it hurt that I had this tumour, this… mass of imperfection, the fact that I couldn't have children if I wanted to hurt even more."
Wow. This was treading into really heavy and serious territory here. "You wanted kids?"
"No. Yes. Maybe. I don't know. It's complicated."
A very confusing and contradicting answer, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing in this instance. Having an immediate snap-response to whether or not to have kids could mean that you didn't think it through very carefully. That would be bad.
"When you get right down to it, I wanted to have a choice," Miranda continued. "Whether to have a child of my own or not, I wanted to be able to choose, rather than having some combination of genes and proteins and biochemical signals make the choice for me. I wanted to have the final say."
And again, that made perfect sense. Miranda was all about order and control. Over her life, over the lives of the men and women under her command. To lose all of that when it came to one of the most fundamental decisions a person could ever make must've been unbearable. "I think I get that," I said at last. "I'm not going to pretend that I completely understand what you went through, but I think I have some idea. Thank you."
"For trusting me with, well, this." I waved my hands in a nebulous gesture. "I know it couldn't have been easy."
"It wasn't," Miranda said sadly. "Thank you."
"For waiting. Until I was ready."
She came into my arms. We held each other for a while. I hoped it all helped.
Whether or not Miranda felt better, I know I certainly did. Talking to Miranda, not only about how I felt about the way this mission wrapped up but how I truly felt, was such a relief. The term 'catharsis' didn't really seem to cover the magnitude of things. I'm not sure anything could. All I knew was that it was get back to business.
The first thing I did was write up an AAR of the mission, what I'd learned and how it all went down. (5) Then I left my quarters to start my rounds.
At least, I tried to start my rounds. Before Dr. Chakwas contacted me on the comm—a scant three steps from entering the elevator and pestering the crew anew—and flat-out ordered me to report to sickbay for a post-mission physical.
I was busy getting poked and prodded when EDI's avatar popped up. (6) "Commander, Admiral Hackett is in the airlock. Once the airlock pressurizes and he comes aboard, he will meet you in the medical bay. ETA: one minute."
"Admiral Hackett," I repeated. "Here?"
"Did we know he was coming?" I asked, looking at Dr. Chakwas. Not waiting for an answer, I tried to get to my feet—
—only to have a hand planted firmly on my shoulder. "Stay. put," Dr. Chakwas said firmly. "I don't know why Admiral Hackett is coming aboard, but he is coming down here. Which gives us just enough time to finish if you stay still."
Fine. I guess I was staying here. "EDI," I said aloud. "Is Admiral Hackett… alone?"
"Admiral Hackett arrived in a transport vessel," EDI replied. "I detect extensive modifications to the engines, suitable for extended deep-space travel. Further enhancements have been made to the kinetic barrier generators and weapon systems, presumably to fend off hostile forces. However, I only detect six life-signs onboard, plus Admiral Hackett: not enough to take over the ship."
So whatever Hackett was here for, it wasn't to take a ship full of criminals and terrorists into custody and return them to the tender mercies of the other Citadel races. "Okay," I sighed. "I'll wait."
It seemed to take forever for Hackett to arrive. If I didn't know better, I'd think he conspired with Dr. Chakwas to take his sweet time so she could run scans and tests to her heart's delight. But he did show up in the end.
"Wait here," Dr. Chakwas said. She went over to Hackett. They talked for a bit before she left sickbay. EDI's avatar disappeared too, presumably to give us the illusion of privacy. Then Hackett walked over to me. "Huh. Looks like you've recovered."
I hopped off the bed and snapped to attention. "Admiral Hackett."
He returned my salute. "Sounds like you went through hell down there. How are you feeling?"
"Dr. Chakwas hasn't given me the all-clear yet, but I feel fine," I said. "No more visions, if that's what you mean. I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"You went out there as a favour to me," Hackett explained. "I decided to debrief you in person."
Um. Wow. Admiral Hackett? Debriefing little ol' me? In person? That's kind of a big deal.
Then he put his hands behind his back and straightened up a little. Uh oh. "That was before the mass relay exploded and destroyed an entire batarian system."
Oh. Right. Aw, crap.
"What the hell happened out there, Commander?"
This could either be Admiral Hackett being honestly mystified at how this rescue mission devolved into a galaxy-level clusterfuck or Admiral Hackett worried about covering his ass and trying to figure out the best way to use me as a scapegoat. "Have you received any intel about what happened?" I asked, stalling for time.
"All I know is that I sent you out there to break Amanda Kenson out of prison," Hackett replied, "and now an entire system is destroyed. I was hoping you could fill in the leap of logic between those two events."
Made sense. More importantly, it sounded like Hackett just wanted to find out what had happened. Of course, he could be a really good actor. But I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I downloaded my AAR to a datapad and handed it to him before starting my debrief: "I confirmed Dr. Kenson's reports. She did find an artifact in the Bahak system that confirmed both the existence of the Reapers and their imminent arrival. They were planning on using the Bahak mass relay and its ability to extend its range to cover the entire galaxy—something that the Hegemony's been hiding all this time. Dr. Kenson determined that destroying the relay by means of a modified asteroid was the only way to stop the Reapers.
"Unfortunately, the artifact provided this confirmation through a series of visions, which eventually indoctrinated Dr. Kenson and the rest of her team. They chose to halt their plans to destroy the relay and await the Reapers' arrival, believing they would be the galaxy's salvation. When I arrived at their base, they attacked, captured and sedated me for almost two days. By the time I woke up, there wasn't much time left. There wasn't any option available to me other than sending the asteroid into the mass relay, which I restarted with about an hour and forty minutes to spare. I tried to warn the batarian colony but... time ran out." I finished, somewhat lamely.
"We've intercepted communications from the batarians," Hackett told me. "It sounds like your crew spearheaded efforts to evacuate as many people as they could while you were captured."
"They did," I confirmed. "I was told that as many as ten thousand batarians got out before..."
Again, I trailed off. How could a couple words adequately describe what had happened.
Hackett seemed to understand. "That matches our own preliminary estimates pretty closely. At least you tried to evacuate the system. And you succeeded to some extent. That's more than most people would have done." His head dropped for a moment. "So Amanda was indoctrinated. Well. That's... a damn shame."
"I'm sorry things didn't turn out as we'd hoped," I offered.
"So am I," he sighed. "I wish you had the chance to meet her before she was indoctrinated. I think you might have liked her."
"I would have liked to meet that Dr. Kenson too."
Hackett lowered the datapad and turned away. He took a couple steps before facing me again. "And you believe the Reaper invasion really was a threat?"
"I do, sir. No doubt about it. We had less than thirty minutes to spare. If you take a look—"
"I'm sure all the details are in your report," Hackett gently interrupted. "I know it's been some time, but I don't think you've forgotten how to write a proper AAR."
"Um..." Wow. That kinda sounded like him believing me. Trusting me. "No, sir," I managed. "Still got it all up here." I tapped my head for emphasis.
Hackett's lip seemed to twitch ever-so-slightly before he got down to business. "I won't lie to you, Shepard," he said frankly. "News of the destruction of the Bahak system has already spread throughout the galaxy. And while I applaud your actions in rescuing all those evacuees, it means that word will get back to the batarians sooner rather than later. Once the Hegemony finds out what happened, they'll want blood, and there's just enough evidence for a witch hunt. To be frank, we don't want war with the batarians." He held up my datapad for emphasis. "Not with the Reapers at the galaxy's edge."
I had a feeling I knew where this was going, but I wanted to hear it from Hackett. "What are you saying?"
"You did what you did for the best of reasons, rescuing ten thousand batarians in the process but... there were over three hundred thousand batarians left behind in that system."
"I know that," I said steadily. "They died. All because trillions of lives were at stake and there was no other option available. If there was another way, if I could've saved them you bet your ass I would have!"
By the time I finished that, I'd taken several steps forward and I'd raised my voice. And my fists were clenched. All while talking to a superior officer—well, while talking to someone who would've been my superior officer if I was still a member of the Alliance. Oops. I forced myself to unclench my fists and took a step back. "Sir," I added belatedly.
"I know that, Shepard," Hackett said quietly. "You're preaching to the choir here. If it were up to me and me alone, I'd give you a damn medal for doing the best you could under impossible conditions and succeeding beyond anyone's expectations. Unfortunately, not everyone will see it that way."
Yeah. There were a lot of people out there who were just itching for a chance to crucify me and this was a golden opportunity to do so. I leaned back against a desk, the one Dr. Chakwas used to fill out paperwork. "So what are you saying?" I asked.
"Evidence against you is shoddy at best," Hackett told me. "But at some point, you'll have to go to Earth and face the music. Even without this latest incident, there are several people who want to know why you disappeared for two years, only to resurface in the hands of a known terrorist organization."
"People still believe I went dark, faked my death and switched sides to join Cerberus," I groaned.
"I'm afraid so," Hackett confessed. "I can't stop it any more than I could stop all the rampant speculation about your miraculous return from the grave, but I can and will make them fight for it. You have my word on that."
That promise meant a lot. It really did. That kind of support made it a little easier to say what I'd been deciding ever since the Bahak system blew up: "I'll gladly stand trial and answer whatever questions there might be, sir. I just need a little time to take care of things before turning myself in."
Hackett smiled—a definite smile of approval, no half-measures whatsoever—for the first time since this debrief began. "Glad to see working with Cerberus hasn't stripped away your sense of honour."
With. He said I was working with Cerberus. Not for; with. Finally, someone who got it. "Permission to speak freely?"
"How concerned is the Alliance over the Hegemony's response to this incident?" I wanted to know.
"Very. The batarians have been looking for an excuse to wage war on us since we showed up in the galaxy. To be honest, there's a faction amongst the Alliance who's been eager to do the same. By itself, that's a serious problem. In lieu of the Reapers... if they invade, we need the galaxy to work together. That won't happen if we're at war with the Hegemony. Humans and batarians will just be softening themselves up for the Reapers. Meanwhile, the other races will be hesitant to give aid to either side."
I was afraid of that. All my efforts to give the galaxy a chance to prepare could be for naught if the races were either at each other's throats or trying to stay neutral. "We don't need division or hesitation amongst the galactic community when the Reapers invade," I agreed. (7) "Now's the time to work together and get ready. Speaking of which, is the Alliance prepared for a Reaper invasion?"
"That's hard to say," Hackett sighed. "As you may recall, it took multiple fleets—and the Destiny Ascension—to bring Sovereign down. And that was just one Reaper."
One Reaper plus a whole geth armada. And the Destiny Ascension didn't really contribute all that much, considering that her crew was more concerned with getting the Council to safety. Hell, the Alliance fleets sacrificed eight cruisers and almost twenty-four hundred lives to save the Destiny Ascension and the Council. On my recommendation. For which I was rewarded with a whole lot of political BS, no support whatsoever and a bunch of denial.
But I was getting distracted. The point was that Hackett was kind of beating around the bush and evading my question... which meant the answer wasn't very promising. Sure enough, Hackett got straight to the point: "It's been almost three years since the Battle of the Citadel, and we're still rebuilding our forces. If the Reapers come now, in force... we're just not ready. Not by a long shot."
"I didn't expect to see you aboard a Cerberus vessel."
"I don't like Cerberus or the way they do things," Hackett admitted, "but they brought you back to life. And, much as I'm ashamed to admit it, they're actually doing something about the state of the galaxy. They did more for all the human colonies out in the Terminus Systems in the last year than the Alliance or the Council ever did in the last decade."
Yeah. They kinda did. This was why there were so many Cerberus sympathizers amongst the Alliance, not to mention all the officers who actually defected.
Hackett shot me a sly glance. "Besides, I'm not so sure this is a Cerberus ship anymore. Destroying the Collector base? Shutting down cells like Project Overlord? Actively thwarting Cerberus operations like the one on Illium? (8) I don't think the Illusive Man approved any of that, do you?"
"I guess not," I returned.
Hackett nodded in satisfaction before turning towards the door. "Do whatever you have to do out here," he said. "But when Earth calls, you make sure you're there with your dress blues on, ready to take the hit.
"In the meantime..."
Hackett turned around and handed the datapad—the one with my AAR—back to me. "...you keep this. You'll be submitting it when you turn yourself in. I don't need to read it now to know you did the right thing."
"I..." For a moment, my throat felt kinda clogged. "I, uh, don't know what to, um, thank you. Sir."
"You've done a hell of a job, Commander," Hackett told me. "No matter what happens over the next few months, remember that."
Then he saluted me. He didn't have to. Like I said, I wasn't an active member of the Alliance. But he did salute me anyway. Maybe he knew what that meant to me. Maybe he knew how badly I needed that right now.
I saluted him back. Then I watched as he left the sickbay, walked away and disappeared around the corner.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Why would you do that?"
"This does not compute."
After Hackett returned to his ship, I summoned the squad for a meeting to tell them of my decision.
"What were you thinking?"
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"Are you outta yer goddamn mind?"
As you might imagine, they didn't take it very well. "I'm turning myself into the Alliance," I repeated.
I quickly elaborated before I got any more questions—like 'Why?' 'How come?' or 'Did all those knocks to the head finally cause some brain damage?' "Look, the Bahak system was destroyed and three hundred batarians were lost. That's caused a lot of chaos, and I'm not just talking about the refugees. The Hegemony wants answers or blood—or both. The Alliance is busy spin-doctoring and deflecting and looking for something—anything—to make this go away. The other races are too busy watching from the sidelines, figuring out which way the wind's blowing. And all of that's just going to get worse as long as I'm out here. Everyone will waste time looking for me and pointing fingers at each other instead of preparing for the Reapers. No one will even listen to our warnings. Out here, I'm a distraction. Or an excuse to do nothing."
"So you're making yourself a scapegoat for the galaxy's convenience?" Tali burst out.
"If I turn myself in, people will stop wondering where the big bad Commander Shepard is hiding. They'll move on. Yes, there'll be inquiries and trials. But maybe after that, people will start listening. Maybe they'll start preparing."
"Maybe pigs will fly," Miranda muttered. (9)
"Even if none of that happens, there's another reason," I said gravely. "I'm the commander of this ship. I was the field leader on this mission. I was the one who chose to re-activate the Project. In the end: it's my call and my responsibility for whatever happens.
"We stopped the Reapers again. But this time, it was at a terrible price. Someone has to accept responsibility for that. And, today, that someone is me." (10)
There was a long silence after that.
"So I'm going to turn myself in. Along with the Normandy—she was based on the Normandy SR-1, and that was a joint venture between the Alliance and the Turian Hierarchy. One of them oughta benefit from taking a peek."
"Shepard... that means I will be turned in as well."
"Don't worry, EDI," I assured her. "Your secret's safe. I'm sure I can come up with some kind of explanation for why you're here when I surrender. As for the rest of you... just because I have to turn myself in, doesn't mean you should too. We'll stop off somewhere and let off anyone who wants to disembark. If you want to disappear, you guys have earned it after everything you've done and everything you've been through. If there's anything you can do to get someone—anyone—ready for the Reapers, though, I think the galaxy would be very grateful.
"Are there any questions?"
There was a long pause as everyone silently digested my decision—and all the ramifications that would come from it.
"All right then," I said. "We've got a lot of work to do. Let's get to it."
There was a lot of scrambling over the next day or so. Embarrassing files and records to be edited or deleted. Organizing departure packages and cover identities as needed. People packing up their things, running around to say their goodbyes, promising to see each other again even though there were no guarantees that would happen.
But we finished it all in the end. I stood by the airlock as the crew disembarked while an old song I had selected played overhead.
"A year from now we'll all be gone.
All our friends will move away.
And they're goin' to better places.
But our friends will be gone away."
I shook hands with terrorists who'd reconsidered their allegiance and criminals who'd been given a second chance.
"Nothin' is as it has been.
And I miss your face like hell.
And I guess it's just as well.
But I miss your face like hell."
I clapped shoulders with civilians and vigilantes, all of whom had tried, in their own way, to make the galaxy a better place.
"Ohhhhhhh, oh, oh.
Ohhhhhhh, oh, oh.
I said my sincere farewells to all the people who'd served and fought and bled beside me over the last year. Men and women who came as strangers and left as friends. Comrades. Family.
"Ohhhhhhh, oh, oh.
Ohhhhhhh, oh, oh.
None of us knew what the future would hold. If things would get better, whether there was light on the horizon, or if things would only get worse.
"Ohhhhhhh, oh, oh.
Ohhhhhhh, oh, oh.
We only knew that we had one more chance. One more roll of the dice. One more glimpse of hope.
"Rivers and roads.
Rivers and roads.
Rivers 'til I reach you."
For now... that would have to do.
"Rivers and roads.
Rivers and roads.
Rivers 'til I reach you." (11)
Editorial Note: This concludes the logs covering the final days of the Bahak system. I can only hope that readers have a better appreciation for the circumstances around that event, the decisions that were made and the consequences that echo even to this very day.
(1): Shepard's recollection was correct.
(2): I believe the quote Shepard was referencing was 'With great power comes great responsibility,' which is usually associated with the fictional human superhero known as 'Spiderman.'
(3): A reference to the character Frankenstein, originally written in 1818 by the human author Mary Shelley, and since adapted to various novels, vids and other media formats.
(4): In fact, the kind of surgery Miranda mentioned was available to humans as far back as the early twenty-first century.
(5): Human military shorthand for 'After Action Report,' which evaluates the actions and decisions taken during a given mission to assess effectiveness and efficiency, analyze the overall outcome, identifies any areas requiring improvement and offers suggestions or recommendations to correct any problems.
(6): That is an exaggeration. A standard medical analysis such as the one Shepard described did not require any physical 'poking or prodding.' Though if it did, Dr. Chakwas wouldn't say.
(7): Sadly, that's exactly what happened.
(8): Shepard and his squad—which included Miranda and Jacob—thwarted an exchange of intel between Cerberus agents on Illium, while also exposing a long-time sleeper cell.
(9): A figure of speech so hyperbolic and fantastical that it could not possibly happen, used to imply that the circumstances in question will never occur.
(10): This, in the humble opinion of this editor, is why Shepard is truly a hero. Not just his unfailing efforts to give his all and more for the greater good, but also for the courage and strength of character in accepting responsibility for his actions, no matter the repercussions.
(11): 'River and Roads,' released by 'The Head and the Heart in 2011