The explosions startled Kaidan as much as they did the creature, but he didn’t lose focus.
The creature did, however. The moment the thing looked to the window and loosened it grip, Kaidan punched it right between its many eyes, his fist shimmering with biotic energy. Then he grabbed the thing by the head and, aiding his muscles with all the biotic energy he could summon, he twisted it’s neck as hard as he could. The sickening crunch echoed through the metal room and the body fell still.
Kaidan stumbled to his feet in revulsion, turning away at once from the hideous corpse. He felt his energy failing him. To his surprise and relief, he saw that the swarms were gone. Kaidan let his barriers fall as he limped to the door.
The great ship was under attack. The GARDIAN lasers were firing on it, the explosions rocking the colony with a sound like thunder. The colonists had gotten the towers back online, Kaidan thought, his heart lifting. Whatever this strange enemy was, his towers had worked. His towers had saved…
Kaidan looked down into the street and his heart sank.
Lilith was gone. Everyone was gone. He stumbled down the stairs and looked about wildly. Abandoned pods lined the wall of one building. The wind picked up, bringing him the smell of harvested wheat and smoke and the stench of rotting meat. How many had been taken? Kaidan wondered. Was anyone left?
There must be someone left, he thought at once. The towers were still shooting at that giant ship, firing round after round into the stony hull. That meant someone was at the targeting matrix in the plaza. He’d start there.
He took off down the street, glancing to the radar of his holographic display as he ran. The red squares were gone, the red triangles were gone – and the green squares were gone.
No, he realized with a surge of hope. There was someone left. Two green squares came into range on the radar – just ahead in the plaza, next to the defense tower grid. And there were also two blue circles. Kaidan felt like he could have fallen to his knees in thanks. Blue circles meant soldiers registered in his suits databases. That meant Alliance forces. They’d sent reinforcements, thank God.
Kaidan tapped his omnitool for a scan of ships in the area. He wondered how many the Alliance had sent. Perhaps one ship could stay and assist the colony while the others went after…
The display showed just one vessel, hovering in orbit above the colony:
SR2 Normandy, frigate class.
Kaidan stared at the display, dumbfounded. He slowed his pace for a moment, then picked up speed again, breaking into a run. Cerberus was here?
So Cerberus had directed this attack after all, Kaidan thought, his mind racing wildly. It was like those Cerberus scientists and the way they had watched those marines die on Akuze. No doubt they were up there, clinically observing, preparing to scavenge the remains of the colony when the attack was done – though they probably hadn’t counted on the lasers being here.
Or maybe, Kaidan thought, they were here for another reason entirely. But whatever their plans, he needed to get to the defense towers and warn those two colonists and those two Alliance soldiers. He just hoped the soldiers weren’t green recruits. He’d need all the help he could get right now. He still had no idea how the Alliance had gotten here.
Kaidan let his eyes flick down to the list beside the radar, reading the names of the colonists and soldiers quickly as he ran. One of the green squares registered as Delan. Of course, Kaidan thought briefly. The guy was just too ornery to die. The other green square registered as someone named “Lawson,” clearly some colonist that Kaidan had never met.
And as for the Marines…
Kaidan stopped dead in his tracks, breathing hard as much from his run as from stunned surprise. He stared at the display, then up at the towers, just one street away. His jaw dropped open; his heart started pounding.
It couldn’t be.
It simply wasn’t possible.
But as he stared at the display, he knew that his scanners could not be mistaken. They had the capacity to differentiate between identical twins, to determine a person’s idenity from a long-range scan of organic tissue, even to pin-point illegal gene mods. So though the display was furiously blinking “Missing in Action,” there was no mistaking the name that floated before Kaidan’s eyes:
If he needed any further proof, the blue dot beside hers was labeled “Garrus.”
Kaidan stopped staring.
Buildings flashed by, empty and silent, a terrible monument to the attack he could not have stopped. Above, the great ship fired up its engines – the blast nearly knocked him to the ground. A roll of thunder sounded overhead and Kaidan felt a tentative drop of rain splash his face. He could smell the burnt ozone smell of the ship’s engines, could smell the putrid scent of the abandoned pods. He heard, rather than saw, the ship pulling away, driven back by the gun tower’s assault.
And yet, the only thing Kaidan really saw was one single blue dot in his display and the one name that flickered at the side of his vision:
“No!” Shepard screamed. There was no way to reach the Collector ship, no way to stop it from blasting off, but that didn’t stop her from running towards the other end of the plaza as fast as her feet could take her. With her upgrades, that was pretty damn fast.
The sudden blast from the ship’s engines knocked her backward. She shielded her face from the heat, even as her insides seemed to melt.
The ship was gone. And she still hadn’t found Kaidan.
He could be somewhere else, she thought desperately. He might be frozen somewhere on the far side of the colony. But given that they had passed through most of the city and had not seen him, she knew that was unlikely.
Her mind began to race. If he was on that ship, how long did they have before the Collectors reached the Omega 4 relay? Could they possibly get through it right now, unprepared as they were? Shepard had no idea, but she was ready to try. After all, how likely was it that the Collectors would keep Kaidan alive for very long? She thought she had iridium for Mordin to build that heavy weapon he’d been talking incessantly about – the Cain, or something like that. That ought to come in handy for taking on the Collectors. If she could just…
“Let’s go,” Miranda said, her voice flat.
“No,” Shepard replied, looked at her wildly. “We have to look. We have to find…” She couldn’t bring herself to speak her hope aloud.
“There’s not reason to stay,” Garrus told her, his voice angry and grim. “They got what they came for. Most of the colonists are on board.”
Shepard stared up at the ship, now a retreating ball of light in the atmosphere. It looked like a shooting star, only it was going the wrong way.
“Kaidan,” she murmured, and her heart seemed to shatter inside of her.
Kaidan reached the plaza at last. There were collector bodies everywhere, their gooey innards exploded from their exoskeletons. There were two horrifying creatures that looked like a husk had bubbled over on itself, and there were simple husks, too, their empty white eyes staring at the stormy sky above. The corpse of some great, bug-like thing lay broken by the defense tower, and standing there in the center of all the carnage was…
Kaidan stared at her, almost unable to breathe.
It couldn’t be her.
But then, it had to be her.
His scanners couldn’t be wrong. And that was Garrus standing right beside her. The turian had taken a bad hit, it seemed, but that was him. And the woman moved like Shepard, spoke like Shepard, hell, she ran like Shepard.
It had to be her. But what she was doing here? How she had managed to avoid being frozen like the rest of the colony? Had she come for him ? His heart beat a little faster to think she’d somehow found him, that she had rescued him – and the colony. For clearly she had been the one to fire the shots into that ship, to get his defense grid working. How had she gotten the towers online with her lousy tech, he wondered?
But somehow she had and somehow she was here – alive.
Shepard was alive.
Kaidan stumbled into the plaza, his mind reeling.
That was Shepard, staring at the sky as if devastated. That was Shepard, glaring at Delan and telling him that she hadn’t wanted the attack to end like this, either. That was Shepard, shifting slightly on her feet and shrugging her shoulders, moving in that familiar, athletic way of hers that was both charming and completely graceless all at once.
“Half the colony is in there!” Delan was shouting at her. “They took Egan and Sam and…Lilith! Do something!”
“I did what I could,” Shepard snapped at him. Kaidan knew that tone. She sounded angry, but there was an edge to the words, as if she was only just keeping herself from showing fear and pain.
“You did more than most, Shepard,” Garrus told her.
“Shepard?” Delan asked. He paused and turned to face her. “Wait, I know that name. Sure, I remember you. You’re some type of big Alliance hero.”
Shepard opened her mouth to speak, but Kaidan stepped out into the open and spoke first:
“Commander Shepard,” he said, walking toward her as if in a dream. “Captain of the Normandy, the first human Spectre, Savior of the Citadel.” He spoke as much to himself as to Delan, as if saying her names and titles aloud would assure him that this was really her standing before him, and not some phantom come to haunt him.
“You’re in the presence of a legend, Delan,” he told the man. Then he looked back to Shepard.
“And a ghost,” he finished, staring at her in wondering awe.
She shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, but said nothing.
“All the good people we lost and you get left behind,” Delan said, glaring at Kaidan in disgust. “Figures. Screw this. I’m done with you Alliance types.”
Kaidan didn’t see him leave. He was too busy staring at Shepard, waiting for her to speak, to move, to do…something.
Only she didn’t. Kaidan waited for her to make the first move, but she just stood there. The only indication that she had not turned into stone was that her wide eyes grew slightly wider. After an awkward moment, Kaidan walked cautiously towards her. Shepard started, took slight step back and lifted her chin.
Kaidan paused at that, a dozen questions suddenly filling his mind:
Why was she hesitating? Why wasn’t she saying anything?
How had she survived the attack on the Normandy? How had she survived the fall to Alchera?
What happened to her hair ?
How had she gotten here? Where had she been all these years?
What had she been doing all this time? Why hadn’t she told anyone that she was alive?
And why the hell, why the bloody hell, had she left him to suffer for years – for *two goddamn years – * alone?
With that thought, his wonder was joined by a swift anger that seemed to claw up into his chest, like a caged creature ready to strike.
Stunned beyond reason, Kaidan just stared. His mind was demanding answers, his rising anger made his heart pound. But his body knew exactly what it wanted. It wanted to be near Shepard, to reach for her, to…
Kaidan’s arms wrapped around Shepard and he bent his head to her neck. He didn’t kiss her, just held her, pulling her to him as tightly as he could. She stiffened for a moment, then softened in his arms. Her arms encircled his waist, her hard armor bumping awkwardly against his.
Kaidan still felt anger roiling in his chest, but his body was completely content. For some reason, his body’s wayward reaction just made Kaidan all the more angry.
“I thought you were dead, Shepard,” he murmured accusingly. “We all did.”
She said nothing, just buried her face against his neck. Her lips brushed the sensitive skin under his jaw in the lightest kiss. Kaidan’s lips parted on a sigh. It was such a small touch, and yet, it sent a fire down every nerve in his body.
It was Shepard.
For a moment, for one long, glorious moment, Kaidan just relaxed and held her. His body pushed aside his mind’s questions, just relished the way her cheek felt against his, the way her lips still rested, slightly parted against his neck, the way her biotic energy felt so…
Kaidan stiffened, breathing in sharply. As he did so, he smelled her, and her scent was different, too. She smelled like the creatures she had been fighting, of course, which was disgusting, but even past that she didn’t smell like that soap-and-Shepard scent of before. She didn’t even smell like her own perspiration. He couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but she smelled…different.
Kaidan started to pull away. Shepard let him go. She took a step back and looked up at him with an inscrutable expression. All about her, he could feel her biotic power: stronger, more weighty, and…shifted, somehow. He had sensed her power the first day he’d met her. Then, it had been a bristling electric static, like the air before a lightning strike. But now, her energy felt like the rain gathering in the storm clouds above: ice and water kept barely in check. There was a raw viciousness to her energy now that almost frightened him.
Kaidan gazed down at her face, searching her eyes. This was Shepard. He was certain of it. And yet…she wasn’t the same.
It took him a moment to place the discrepancies, but he knew her face so well that he found them, one by one. Her hair was gone for a start: it had been cut to a mere centimeter all over the top of her head, as though she was a biotic cultist or something. Her cheeks were marred by faint scars, red lines crisscrossing like a web. Her freckles were fainter than before and the deep scar under her right eye was gone.
And her eyes were changed. They had been different colors before: one a greenish-blue and the other a bluish-gray. Now they were both the same light blue, or perhaps more gray than blue. She was wearing makeup, as well, and it was smeared all about her eyes like an Earth-raccoon. With her pale skin and too-thin face, it gave her a skeletal look.
What happened to her? His mind broke through his body’s stupor to ask. Where has she been all these years? Why did she leave me alone?
The anger in Kaidan’s chest grew stronger, like a beast, throwing itself against the bars of his ribcage.
The Shepard I knew wouldn’t have left .
It was Shepard. Kaidan was certain of it.
But she had completely and utterly changed.