Meat and Tubes

Part 2, Chapter 19 of Valkyrie

Liara swallowed hard, trying to choke down both the bile that had risen in her throat.

That’s Shepard?” The bald man frowned into the casket that held the body. “Holy hell, Miranda. You told me I was going to be working on Shepard, not a pile of meat.”

“Don’t speak of her like that!” Liara cried, her eyes filling with tears. “You have no idea what I went through to find her…”

“You did well, Dr. T’Soni,” Miranda said, her voice as close to kind as the bald man had ever heard it. To the man, she said, “She did her best. At least the Shadow Broker didn’t get the body. Can you salvage it, Wilson?”

The bald man was already running an omnitool over the open casket. “The brain’s all there,” he said. “That’s the key. We should be able to reconstruct the cells, reactivate the neural data… After that, the body can be regrown…”

“You’re not going to clone her, are you?” Liara asked in horror.

“No,” Miranda said decisively. “We need her memories, her knowledge and experience. We need Shepard, not someone with her DNA.”

Liara relaxed a little as that, even as silent tears fell from her eyes.

“Still,” Wilson said with a frown, “This is going to take a lot of work. I can do it, but I want double what you’re paying me.”

Miranda glared at him. “We can negotiate that later. Move her into the lab,” she nodded to the crate. “We need to get to work on her as soon as possible.”

Liara wiped her tears away. “And what can I do?” Miranda looked at the asari in consideration.

“Whatever you like, Dr. T’Soni,” she replied. “You are welcome to join us, to join Shepard’s crew. We will work as quickly as we can, but this may take a long time.”

“I see,” Liara said. She thought for a moment, then said, “I believe I will go. I have some unfinished business to see to.”

“Very well,” Miranda nodded. “Thank you for your help in this. Cerberus is in your debt, and that is not a thing to be taken lightly.” She tapped her omnitool. “I’m transferring a bounty to your personal account…”

“Keep your money,” Liara said softly and coldly. “I don’t want it.”

“And yet,” Miranda said, “It’s yours. Use it as you see fit. Thank you again, Dr. T’Soni.” With that, she walked away, leaving Liara alone in the docking bay of the Cerberus facility.

Liara squeezed her eyes shut and let the tears fall. Like all most asari, when she cried, she did so silently, gracefully, the tears coursing her cheeks like quiet rivers. Some humans cried like that, but others cried loudly, their faces turning red and sobs wracking their whole bodies. Liara had never known that before, but after Shepard’s death, she had seen enough weeping humans to find out. In grief as well as other things, Liara had learned that humans were a surprisingly diverse species. The same tragedy had hit the entire crew and the humans had reacted as differently as one could imagine.

The aliens had reacted as she expected, based on her little reading about their cultures. Garrus had grown angry, edgy, and even violent – at least towards Joker. He had stormed off the Citadel and not been heard from since. Though he was more hot-headed than the average turian, Liara realized that his approach of action rather than sentiment was typical of his kind. Wrex had acted like any krogan. He had wandered back to his old life with the stoic sadness of a veteran who hates to see the death of a respected warrior, but accepts it all the same. Tali had returned to her fleet sadly, crushed and seemingly a little dazed by the death of her captain. The quarian was too young, Liara thought, to fully understand what she had lost when she lost Shepard.

But as for the humans, Liara could still see their faces in her mind. There had been aching sadness in Dr. Chakwas’ eyes, brokenness in Joker’s, but strangest of all, in Lieutenant Alenko’s eyes Liara had seen nothing at all.

Liara couldn’t understand it. Every time he had spoken to Liara, he had been so cold, so completely in control, she wondered how he managed it. Liara was not sure how intimate, exactly, Shepard and Kaidan had been. She knew that they had been closer than their Alliance protocols allowed for. She tried to ignore that fact. It was easier to pretend that their act of mere friendship was the reality. It kept Liara from having to think about Shepard being with someone else when Liara still had feelings for the woman.

Kaidan had been so lucky, Liara thought, so incredibly lucky to have Shepard, even for so short a time. His reaction to Shepard’s death still made Liara angry. She had been devastated by Shepard’s death, and Shepard had only been a friend. If Liara had been lucky enough to become Shepard’s…

Liara could not finish the thought. It made her feel the cold bite of jealousy all over again. For Kaidan to act like nothing had happened seemed so selfish and wrong to her. He hadn’t even wanted to find Shepard’s body, to lay her to rest properly.

Though now that Liara had seen the body, she could appreciate his reluctance. Seeing Shepard’s remains had disturbed her so badly, she doubted that she would be able to sleep for weeks. Liara still had dreams inspired by Shepard’s visions from the Prothean beacon. Liara had also touched other parts of Shepard’s mind then, though she had never told anyone about that. She saw glimpses of Mindoir at times, and the horrors of the Blitz, too. In many ways, Liara had seen all the dark parts of Shepard’s past, even though Shepard had never spoken of it.

It had been Kaidan that Shepard confided to, Kaidan that Shepard relied on. Liara had always wanted to be a companion to Shepard, but in the end, it was always Shepard taking care of Liara, comforting Liara, being friendly to Liara – and then walking away to seek care, comfort, and friendship from Kaidan. In the end, Liara had been just one more responsibility to Shepard.

Liara still felt somewhat guilty for bringing Shepard back without asking Kaidan’s permission. It was not that he owned Shepard, Liara told herself. But part of her felt that it ought to have been his decision to make. At the very least, he should have known.

But after weeks of ignoring her emails and calls, then finally brushing her aside so coldly at their last meeting, she found she could not bring herself to speak to him about it. When last she saw him, he didn’t at all resemble the man Liara had known and envied. The man she’d spoken with was remote and lifeless. Liara suspected that in his own mind, Kaidan had already buried the commander.

But Liara had not. She could not stop thinking that Shepard’s time had been too short, her mission too important, her life too dear. So Liara went ahead and made the decision about Shepard that no one else had been called upon to make.

She just hoped she had made the right choice.