***This is fan fiction. It is not being sold. I make no claims to any rights to the Mass Effect universe, characters, locations, etc. Don’t sue 🙂 ****
Shepard stared down at the shimmering visage of a boy. Exploding Alliance ships made desperate suicide runs against Reapers in the distance, a silent battle playing out far beyond the shielded glass of the Citadel. The commander, humanity’s last hope weighing on his shoulders, looked up at the three paths laid out before him: control, destroy, or . . . synthesis. None of the options appealed to him. While all held the promise of a victory on some level, they also held a bitter defeat.
“I . . . I don’t know,” he thought, repeating his vocalized sentiment from earlier. “This doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t there be some other choice? Damn it!” He turned to his right. “If I’m damned, if the rest of the galaxy is damned no matter the choice, why the hell should the Reapers get to survive, controlled or not? “
Shepard gritted his teeth against the pain of his many wounds, faintly aware of blood glistening down his left side. He clenched his fist in determination, his trigger finger absently caressing the small sliver of metal that transferred desired outcome into directed action. He stepped forward.
“Think about what you are doing,” cried the self-proclaimed Catalyst. “The cycle will only return.”
“I have,” Shepard replied with another pained step towards the Reapers’ end.
“Have you?” asked a new voice.
The survivor of Akuze blinked, imagining the hallucination would vanish with renewed concentration on his end task.
“I will not leave so easily, Commander,” said the Prothean voice.
“What- how are you-?”
“Your mind has been altered, as you know, by our beacons. The chance discovery of Javik was a bonus. His contact with you was an important bridge in my process. It allowed me to tag along, as it were, actively processing your consciousness instead of merely watching.”
“How long have you been in there?”
“Since the beginning.”
“Eden Prime? The first time?”
“But you’ve only now-”
“Been completed. Part of me- my programming- was transferred in each of your contacts, further developed and pieced together by your Asari friend’s bonding with you.”
“Liara . . .”
“Yes. Only recently, on Thessia, was the final piece received. This was an eventuality we predicted.”
“Finding the Reapers’ creator. Realizing that a greater intelligence, facing its own demise, might use one of the galaxy’s oldest arguments to save itself.”
“And that is?”
“The false premise.”
“There IS another option.”
“Yes, and your subconscious realization of that is what triggered me.”
“You know something that can help? Another option?”
“Yes. Long did we study the Reapers and their code, during our cycle 50,000 of your years ago. In cracking the programming of those you call the Keepers, on this Citadel, we saw a possible answer. We had no fear of altering them, but altering the Reapers and leaving them alive-”
“Would have been too great a risk,” Shepard finished.
“Yes. But more importantly, we never were able to complete the delivery device to even try.”
“Again: yes,” said the mental projection to Shepard.
“So the Reapers and . . . Keepers, have programming. Written by the same . . . maker.”
Blood tickled at his eyes. His vision was blurring. More voices entered into the commander’s head.
“And any decent programmer . . .” said Tali’s voice.
“Would leave a back door . . .” continued Kasumi.
“To allow for termination of potential conflicts of interest, Shepard-Commander,” finished Legion.
Shepard wiped the blood away from his face with a hand half covered by a tattered glove. He looked up at the Prothean. “They have a kill switch.”
“That is correct.”
“How do I throw it?”
“Through your Crucible. Your adversary is very clever. Before you passed out, where were you?”
“At the console.”
“Trying to figure out why the Crucible wasn’t firing.”
“And what had you learned?”
“Nothing. I only had a few seconds before . . .”
“Before he raised the platform, taking you away from the very instrument that will bring about his end.”
“But I have no idea how it works. I’m no engineer. I’m a soldier. I blow up what I don’t understand.”
“You give yourself far too little credit, Commander Shepard, but the larger point is made. You do not have time or the required skills to activate the Reaper code that will bring them down. What would you normally do if you did not have the requisite knowledge on a topic?”
Shepard dropped his gun.
“Find someone who does.”
The Prothean vanished. Shepard wheeled around with renewed energy but also with renewed pain. He turned back to the platform that had lifted him up and came as close to a run as he could. He held his hand up to the communicator in his ear.
“Shepard! What the hell is going on? The Citadel has opened all the way, but still nothing.”
“I need you to patch me through to one of my team.”
“What’s going on, Commander?”
“There’s a Reaper kill code, but I need someone who knows programming and Reaper tech to figure it out.
“No!” wailed the Catalyst from behind. “How do you-?” The figure raised a hand and Shepard was frozen in mid stride. “You will not do this!”
A glowing energy enveloped Shepard as he felt a presence take over. He watched as his own hand reached out towards the Catalyst child. He felt his vocal chords being used by someone else.
“You are correct, Catalyst, he will not. Not alone, at least. We shall help.” Shepard felt a tremor rise from the pit of his stomach, flow up to his shoulder and blast through his arm, firing a blinding beam of intense energy at his target.
“You vile Protheans!” cried the Catalyst, the energy crushing him to the ground.
“We prayed to long dead gods that this day would come, Catalyst. We were ready. You underestimate organics to your own folly.”
The energy ceased. Shepard’s body, and his vision, returned to his control. The Catalyst was gone, only a plume of smoke twisting upward to mark its death.
“Now go, Shepard!” came the Prothean voice, only in his head this time. “The Reapers yet live!”
“I’m here, Admiral, and I need you to connect me to . . . EDI.”
“Yes, Shepard?” came his synthetic crew member’s sensual voice.
“I need you to connect with a console I’m going to give you access to. You’re going to use it to interface with the Citadel.”
“To what end, Commander?”
“The Protheans found a kill code in the Reaper programming. It’s in the Crucible . . . somewhere.”
“Understood. Awaiting connection.”
Shepard made his way back to the platform. It automatically lowered to its original location at the command terminal. Shepard’s fingers tapped quickly on its control panel.
“Find it, EDI!”
Shepard waited for what seemed an eternity, yet passed in only seconds. He looked around. Behind him, Anderson’s still form lay slumped over where he and Shepard had spent his last moments, sharing a view of Earth. The commander looked down, face contorting in barely checked rage. He turned away and looked to the stars. Outside the battle raged on. He saw a Turian dreadnought fire a killing blow on a full sized Reaper. Hope lived.
“Code detected, Shepard. Orders?”
“Kill these bastards, EDI!”
“With pleasure, Commander.”
The terminal flashed a brilliant purple mixed with blue. Shepard crumpled to the floor.
* * * * * *
The ruins of London sheltered Ashley Williams from gunfire. The onslaught of fire spewed from the twisted and Reaper-ized form of a lost Turian. It was supplying covering fire for the even more nightmarish Brute. From her cover, the most recently christened Spectre saw her allies in prime positions. She gave the orders.
“Vega: grenade! Garrus: attack!”
Ashley rose as the last command left her lips, turning and firing on the Brute. Time slowed. Ashley felt an explosion of pain in her shoulder, saw her target taking hits from her weapon as a grenade expertly landed in its gaping maw, and grimaced, witnessing a gratuitously messy hole form in the Turian husk’s head.
Time resumed its normal pace. Ashley slammed backwards, into yet another pile of rubble, cracking her skull in the process. She vaguely heard an excited “Fuck yeah!” from Vega before blacking out.
Her head spun, but the she recognized the voice of an old friend.
“Ash. Ash, you need to wake up. Somethings happening. You’ll want to see it, I think.”
She blinked a few times before Garrus Vakarian decided to make himself not blurry. She looked up, over his armored shoulder as he and Vega pulled her, mindful of the bloody shoulder, slowly to her feet. A bright purple-blue light was rapidly expanding in the sky. Its source was where Ashley knew, but couldn’t see, the Citadel to be.
“We’re already getting reports, directly from your Admiral Hackett: the Reapers are shutting down!”
“As soon as it fucking slams into those mother fuckers!” James Vega confirmed. “It’s a thing of beauty. And it’s almost here!”
Ashley found herself smiling at the vulgar excitement she’d come to expect in her newer friend and comrade in arms. She scanned the vicinity, searching.
“Three o’clock,” Garrus offered.
She turned to her right and saw a lumbering Harvester towering in the distance. The swath of energy approached and even the Reaper abomination looked about in confusion and, Ashley thought, fear. The shock wave hit. The hulking enemy erupted with an inhuman scream as it was lifted into the air and violently torn to pieces that then exploded in flames and crashed back down to the ground.
A chunk of Harvester debris rained down only a dozen meters from Williams and her companions. She tentatively crept forward to investigate. As the three approached, weapons drawn, the smoldering scrap of metal and Reaper technology vaporized right before their eyes. Ashley turned her attention to a small Krogan detachment to the south, in a pitched battle with Reaper forces. The energy rushed up from behind on the Krogan, passed them over without a scratch and turned their foes to dust. There was an audible groan from the Krogan soldiers, upset at being robbed of a glorious victory.
Ashley felt herself laugh, truly laugh, for the first time in what felt like years. Garrus and James joined her, having witnessed the scene as well. Static squalled in her ear.
“. . . tenant Commander Williams, please respond. I repeat, this is Admiral Hackett of Alliance Command, Lieutenant Commander Williams, are you there?”
Ashley tapped her communicator. “Yes sir. Alive and watching Reapers die . . . sir!”
“Thank you, Williams. That is exactly the confirmation I was looking for.”
“Any word from Shepard? Is the Citadel even still up there? In one piece?”
She was answered with silence. She felt a ball of emotion climbing in her throat. “Admiral?” Ashley asked, hearing her voice crack slightly.
“Williams . . . Ashley, we’ve had no response since that blast came from the Crucible. Scans indicate the Citadel is still there, but-”
“We need to get up there! He might need help.”
“Lieutenant Commander, we’ve got another issue that’s about to make this victory short lived that we need to look into as well. Since we have no idea whether Shepard made it or not, I need you to take point on this.”
Ashley looked at Garrus and James. Neither hid their looks of disgust at the Admiral’s words. She took a deep breath.
“Go ahead, Admiral. What’ve we got?”
“Good. Williams, reports are coming in that that blast from the Crucible has not only taken out the enemy . . .”
“What?” she coaxed.
“The Mass Relays have been destroyed as well.”
“What?!” she repeated, wondering for the briefest of moments how the exact same word could convey such completely different emotions and meanings.
“It’s a hell of price to pay for a victory over the Reapers . . . and we’re beginning to wonder if it might have been too high. If we should have found another-”
“No! There was no other way . . . with respect, Admiral. Shepard would have found it.”
“Of course. You’re right, but the fact remains we now have major military contingents of every major race, stranded in our solar system . . . and armed to the teeth on Earth. If word reaches them about this . . .”
She had heard enough. She understood the implications. Earth- humanity- was not out of the woods yet. She tapped her communicator, cutting off the admiral in mid-sentence. She looked to her friends.
“You catch all of that?” Ashley asked them.
“Yes ma’am,” Vega replied. Garrus only nodded.
“We’re going after Shepard,” Ashley said.
“That’s what I heard,” Vega said.
“And you won’t be doing it by yourself,” came a voice from behind.
Ashley turned to see a deadly, sexy, tattoo covered woman, glowing of biotic energy.
“Jack, glad you could make it,” Garrus said.
“What and let you save the savior by your fuckin’ self, Vakarian? Not a chance,” Jack replied. She glanced over at James. “How’s it hanging, meat head?”
“Same as it always has, if you wanna find out, chica.”
The former Subject Zero raised an eyebrow and flashed half a grin that vanished just as quickly as it appeared.
“Save it, you two,” Williams ordered with a shake of her head and quick chuckle.
Behind Jack, two Krogan jogged up.
“We heard you were over here, Williams,” stated Urdnot Wrex.
“What’s the plan?” asked a once more blood soaked Grunt.
“The plan is to get a damn ship and go get Shepard off that Crucible- Citadel- whatever the hell we’re calling it now,” Ashley answered.
Grunt pounded a fist into the palm of his other hand. “Then what are we waiting for?”
“That would be me,” came the voice of Steven Cortez over a loud speaker.
An Alliance shuttle hovered into view. “Found this little baby just looking for some attention and couldn’t turn it away. So who needs a ride?”
“Cortez? Your sorry ass is still alive?” Vega joked.
“Charming as ever, Mr. Vega. Lieutenant Commander, do we have any contact with Joker and the Normandy? I don’t think this ride will make it all the way out of atmo by itself right now, despite some help from a new Geth friend I just made.”
“We’ll work on that. Let’s find somewhere for you to land, Cortez, and then we can hash out our details.”
“Yes ma’am,” the pilot answered. “Saw a spot about 6 klicks west of here. I’ll be waiting.” The shuttle rotated and then rumbled off with an obvious rattle that would need work sooner rather than later.
“Well what the fuck are we waiting for?” asked Jack with a full grin that Ashley hoped was just a look of mischief and not the hint of evil she thought she had seen at first.
“Nothing,” the Lieutenant Commander said. “Let’s go, people.”
The two Krogans, Turian, and three humans took off across the wastelands of London, intent on either rescuing or burying a man they had come to respect, fear, and love as none they had ever known in their lives or hoped to know in what remained of them.
* * * * * *
“Shuttle London’s Orphan to Normandy, do you read? Joker, this is Cortez, do you copy? Tali, are you picking up our transmission? Liara? EDI? Damn it!”
Cortez took his finger off the interface’s communicator and sat back in his seat. “Nothing. It’s been too long and we’ve been broadcasting every 5 minutes.”
“You’re right, Steve. Guess that means we’ll go with plan B . . . provided the repairs our Geth friend-”
“Heavy Metal,” Vega interjected.
“This platform is comprised of various density substances, Vega-human, none of which-”
“Jesus, Vega, you and your nicknames,” Jack broke in.
“Can it, people,” Ashley said. “I just need an answer, Geth platform . . .”
“Heavy Metal. Say it with me: heavy-”
“Damn it, Vega, let it- him- whatever, talk,” Williams said with narrowed eyes.
Vega recognized the look of a superior officer giving an order and raised his hand to his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
“This platform- I- will accept the organic need for designation to facilitate better communication. I will answer to Heavy Metal.”
Ashley clenched her jaw and bowed her head in silence for a moment. “Heavy Metal, will your repairs get this shuttle to the Citadel?”
“Yes, Williams-human. With eighty-five percent certainty.”
“That will have to do. Punch it, Cortez,” Ashley ordered.
The shuttle’s course adjusted minimally and the Normandy’s shuttle pilot poured on the speed, hoping their synthetic ally was right.
Grunt looked over at Vega and squinted at him.
“What?” James asked.
“Hey, it’s my favorite kinda music. What? You gotta a better name for him?”
Grunt shrugged and Vega looked around the cabin of the shuttle. Jack was eying him. Vega opened his hands up in question. Jack shook her head nonchalantly.
“I would’ve gone with ‘Tinman’.”
Vega looked at her for second, frozen. Then his eyes widened and his head fell back in defeat. “Damn it!”
The rest of the crew laughed, save one, as the shuttle sped off.
* * * * * *
Javik watched the two human female shapes with only a hint of suspicion. The one the Prothean warrior watched more, to his own surprise, was not EDI. He did not believe he could ever come to trust a free thinking machine, but at least he had fought with this one at his side. He had only met the Miranda Lawson woman briefly on Sanctuary. He felt something dangerous about her. His hand lay resting on his Prothean rifle, an ancient weapon in terms of years, technically, but advanced beyond any weapon carried by organics in this cycle. A soft touch brushed his shoulder. He glanced back with two right eyes at the Asari and saw her look to his gun hand. It drifted away from the deadly tool and Liara smiled. Javik almost smiled in return.
Liara had convinced him to join her, EDI, and Miranda, along with the scar-mangled human male, Zaeed, on Miranda’s ship, which had flown to a rendezvous point with the Normandy that had been prearranged before Operation Hammer. That piece of foresight had proven invaluable as the Normandy had taken what damage it had to its communications systems, rendering real-time contact impossible at the moment. Javik still found it unnerving that he should be relieved to find the ship, Joker, Tali, and the rest of the Normandy’s crew alive and no worse for wear having survived the chaotic battle with the might of the Reapers’ host above Earth.
“Odd that I should come to rely on these primitives,” the living relic thought.
Once Miranda’s ship had landed in the Normandy’s tight hangar, the warship had blasted off towards the Citadel, where only a careful search had found a serviceable docking port. Now, Javik, Zaeed, EDI, Liara, and Miranda, searched section by section of the massive station, looking for their friend and commander. Javik’s senses tingled momentarily as he walked directly behind Miranda. “Or more than a friend, for one,” he thought.
“How much bloody further ‘ave we got ta go?” Zaeed grumbled over his shoulder, as he peered through the scope of his gun, down a side hallway. The scope’s infrared ability was a saving grace. The Citadel was only running with auxiliary lighting, casting a low red light into an overwhelming darkness that made visibility stretch only a few dozen meters in the brightest direction. Enemies could be hiding in what would normally have been plain sight. The team kept up their guard as they moved.
“The Commander’s communicator signal last came from somewhere in this general area, but with all the interference from the energy wave, an exact location was not triangulated. We will have to keep searching,” answered EDI.
“Well you can stop searching, folks, cause you’re not gonna find anything you want heading that way,” came a gruff voice from behind them.
Miranda turned with the rest of the crew, weapons raised, pointing at a lone figure, carrying his own weapon, lowered at his side.
“Commander Bailey?” Miranda said, astonished.
“In the flesh. Lucky for me,” he said, adjusting a make shift eye patch, covering his right eye. A jagged scar protruded from the top and bottom of the eye patch, showing the signs of an attack in which Bailey was more than happy to have only lost his eye.
“How did you manage-”
“To survive? Barely, to tell the truth. Hell, after Cerberus took over the station so quickly, I decided something like that was not going to happen to me again. I created a safe room in a very little known location. Stocked it with food, weapons, and communication gear for myself and about five others from C-Sec. Guess me and the kid should count ourselves lucky. Supplies for five go pretty far when only two make it. Goddamned Reapers. But I’m glad it’s you guys that my tracking system picked up. Wasn’t really looking forward to having to take on a team of enemy forces by myself.”
“But you said their were two of you,” Javik said, glancing around the once pristine area which he recognized, almost, as part of the Citadel’s Presidium.
“Easy, big fella. There’s no trap. I see that look in your eye . . .s. I left him back at the safe room. Needed someone to keep a watch on the other group.”
“What other group?” Javik asked.
“The one that crashed a rickety ship into a barely useable docking area near Zakera ward . . . well, the parts of it that didn’t shift, slide, and morph to some other area since the Reapers captured my station,” Bailey answered. “Internal sensors are limited to motion tracking. Have no idea who they are. Had no idea who you all were till I saw you. I can tell you it’s a bigger group than you’ve got here. That’s it.”
Liara stepped up, her patience exhausted. “Have you tracked anyone else? We heard Admiral Anderson and Shepard had made it on board. They were the ones that activated the Crucible.”
“The Crucible, eh? Is that what you’re calling that new addition?”
“Please,” Liara continued,”where is Shepard?”
“You’ll want to follow me,” Bailey said. He turned and started walking. The crew followed with steps quickened with the first dash of hope offered since the Normandy had arrived at the station. The C-Sec commander led them down hallways, up and down half a dozen stair cases, some blocked with piles of the dead, others by damage from the recent onslaught of the Reapers’ taking of the Citadel.
Finally, they arrived outside a half-sized door that was marked in four languages, the last of which was English and read “ELECTRICAL.” Bailey knocked a rhythm that Miranda raised an eyebrow to, waited, and then knocked the pattern again. The door opened and a teenage boy with tattoos, multiple facial piercings, and a blue Mohawk peaked out with a gun shaking in hand.
“It’s okay, Kenny, they’re friends.”
The boy nodded and relaxed. The crew followed Bailey into the room. It was larger than the door had suggested, with signs of renovation clearly visible. Javik could easily see that the room had been expanded. The room was an open rectangle with one far side going left around a corner, to what he did not know. Bailey motioned for them to stop and waved at some nearby shipping containers. “Take a load off,” he said. They moved to sit down and Bailey pulled Miranda to the side. He spoke in hushed tones with her and then she looked to Shepard’s crew.
“I . . . I’ll be right back,” she said. She followed Bailey around the corner.
“Anybody catch what they were talking about?” Zaeed asked.
No one answered.
* * * *
Miranda followed Commander Bailey around the corner of his safe room and through a door to an adjoining room.
“It’s not pretty,” Bailey said as the door opened. “But . . . well, see for yourself.”
In the middle of the room were three conference tables. Two of them held bodies.
“Oh god,” Miranda whispered, raising a hand to her lips, not quite touching them.
The still form of Admiral Anderson rested on one table, blood pooled around him on the table and soaking into his clothes. On the second table, wearing shattered armor and covered in just as much blood and showing an odd pattern of burn marks on one arm, from the elbow down through the hand, was–
“Shepard!” Miranda exclaimed. She rushed over to the table and laid her hands on the commander, tears coming to her genetically perfected eyes. She heard a groan. She looked up but saw no movement from Shepard.
“Damn, medi-gel is some amazing stuff, eh Miss Lawson,” mumbled a weak Admiral Anderson.
Miranda turned around and saw the admiral’s head turned to face her and his eyes blinking, struggling to stay open.
“Anderson, you’re alive!”
“I better be.”
“But all this blood?”
“Ha, not mine. You should have seen where that beam threw us out up here. Nothing but dead bodies and pools of blood. Besides, I paid good money for this advanced thin armor,” he said, patting the layer of protection on his torso. “One shot from a pistol better not be able to end me. Still, all the other things, before that, took their toll, so it was a near thing. And I owe my thanks to that man,” he said, weakly pointing at Bailey. “I’m still not sure I’d have kept breathing without his help.”
“You can thank me when you’re cleared by a real doctor, Admiral. You’re lucky to be alive. The blunt force trauma alone you’ve suffered, armor or not, would have killed lesser men. I’m shocked as hell that the medi-gel was even able to stabilize you as well as it did. How many times were you shot, blasted, thrown to the ground from Earth to up here on this table?”
“Well, it must’ve been a good doz–”
“Not as many as me, that’s for damn sure,” came another weakened voice that sent Miranda whirling around so quickly she nearly lost her balance.
“Shepard!” she cried.
“Ms. Lawson,” Commander Shepard replied, a small grin on his blood spattered face.
“Don’t you ‘Ms. Lawson’ me. You broke your promise!”
“And that was?”
“That you would come find me when this was all over.”
“Hey, easiest way to find someone . . . is to give them a reason to come to you, right?” Shepard responded with a smile through gritted teeth.
“You ass,” Miranda said with a smile and playful slap to the commander’s hip.
“Ugh! Easy, there. I may have gotten some medi-gel, but I’m not 100%. “
“Damn, Shepard, am I going to have to rebuild you again?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Another chance to drop me down on a cold slab, completely naked and at your mercy.”
“You know that’s my favorite way to have you,” she laughed.