I was thinking today about the people we’d lost on the Normandy: Presley and Ash and the others. I’m sorry they’re gone, but at least they had a good end.
Or maybe I’m just fooling myself and there is no ‘good end.’ Maybe that’s something we survivors make up to feel better about moving on.
Above the hum of wings and the blast of gunshots, Shepard heard the scream right in her ear. That was unsurprising, as the scream came right from her comm link to her earpiece.
The cry felt like a gunshot to the heart. The voice was colored with fear, desperate for escape. And for a moment, Shepard was reminded of Ashley Williams – how that soldier had been trapped without hope – and how Shepard had let her down.
“Shep!” the voice was nearly begging now. “It’s hot in here! I can’t…”
The memory ended abruptly as Shepard’s shields blasted out under a rain of bullets. Hissing a curse, she dove behind cover and pulled on a biotic barrier.
“You alright, Shepard?” Miranda asked, ducking down beside her.
“Fine,” Shepard said between gritted teeth. She risked a quick glace up at the ventilation shaft high above them. She knew a certain thief was up there, but that Kasumi was blocked by a door in the pipe. It was a simple thing to open the way, but unfortunately, half a dozen Collector drones stood between herself and the controls.
“Hang on, Kasumi,” Shepard said, speaking as calmly as she could into the comm link. “We’re almost there.”
“I’m burning up!” Kasumi said, an edge of terror in her voice. “You’ve got to…” Her cry faded into a hacking cough.
“I see the vent,” Shepard told her. “I’m going to be there in half a second. Same as before.”
“But…” The coughs redoubled.
“I’m coming Kasumi,” Shepard said again, willing it to be true.
Peeking up over cover, Shepard saw her chance. She tossed a singularity into the midst of several drones. Their heavy biotic barriers rippled visibly against the pull of the gravity well, but they stayed on their feet.
“Take out their shielding, Lawson,” Shepard commanded. Miranda jumped up and threw a warp missile into one of the drone’s giant heads. Unable to resist the gravity well any longer, it helplessly flew up into orbit around the glowing ball of blue.
“Samara!” Shepard called.
The justicaar didn’t need more explanation than that. Another drone lost it’s barrier in an unholy rush of biotics and blood. A second drone joined the first.
“Now!” Shepard shouted, and all three women jumped above cover, guns drawn. Shepard’s assault rifle ripped through the barriers of the last few drones, while Samara and Miranda aimed their guns into the center of the singularity and fired at whatever was caught there. By the time the singularity faded, only 1 drone remained.
“Coming, Kasumi,” Shepard said, vaulting over cover to rush towards the control panel and firing two rounds into the drone before her. The creature twisted, flailing wildly under the assault.
But then, before she had gone two feet, the wounded drone shot into the air, bursting with light.
“Oh shit,” Shepard muttered.
“We are Harbinger,” the drone said, it’s voice echoing in Shepard’s mind.
“Yes, I know,” Shepard said, popping the heat sink from her assault rifle, “We’ve met before.”
She aimed the gun and fired. To her dismay, the rifle just clicked. She quickly holstered it and yanked out her pistol. One heat sink left, she noticed.
Rushing forward, she fired directly into Harbinger’s head. The pistol shots made the creature’s biotic barriers shake, shimmer, then fall. Two more shots cracked its armor, and then the pistol was empty. Shepard hissed a curse, and at the same time, the monstrous collector before her gathered a massive, roiling ball of dark energy and threw it into her. Shepard didn’t have time to duck. The missile tore off her barriers, leaving her stinging all over as if crackling with static electricity. She saw Harbinger gathering a second shot.
Fast as she could, she gathered her own biotic energy and shoved it all at Harbinger in a single pulse. The creature staggered back under the wave of blue, and Shepard charged. No bullets left, she elbowed the creature hard in the face. Harbinger staggered again. Then, drawing on the last reserves of her strength, Shepard threw a last pulse of energy at the Collector. He went sailing across the deck, scrabbled at the floor, then fell off a ledge and was gone.
Shepard ran to the control panel as the shout rang in her ears. She hit the entire panel interface with an open palm. A crackling sound buzzed over the comm, then the link fell silent.
“Kasumi?” Shepard called.
There was no answer.
“Kasumi!” Shepard shouted. “Come in!”
“They’re behind us!” Miranda cried. Shepard whirled around to see the Collectors had cut off their escape back down the passage behind them. Shepard glanced around, looking for cover, and saw nothing behind her but a huge, closed door. She shoved at the door, but it did not move. Turning back to the swarms, Shepard readied her gun, then realized she was still out of ammo.
“Goto!” she shouted, pulling on a biotic barrier. “Where the hell are you?”
For a moment, there was nothing but whirring and clicking as the drones touched down and began to close in around them. Then a great whooshing sound filled the chamber. Shepard turned around just in time to see the great door slide open a crack.
“Miss me?” Kasumi grinned.
“Move!” Shepard shouted to Miranda and Samara by way of reply. She ushered the other women through the opening, and started to back through herself. On either side of the opening, she could see the rest of the second team.
“Suppressing fire!” shouted Garrus. The turian and Thane stood on either side of her now, shooting back down the passage they had come from. The other doors into the chamber were shut, but the collectors were pressing closer and closer to this last entry in.
“Get it shut!” Garrus shouted at Kasumi.
Kasumi fiddled with the interface for half a second more, her head dangerously close to the collector fire coming through the still-open doors. Shepard positioned herself right next to Kasumi, firing warp missiles back as quickly as she could manage. For a moment, everything was chaos, then, sudden silence.
A faint ping echoed in the empty space, indicating a bullet had ricocheted off the door frame as it had snapped shut.
“Well, damn,” Jacob said, letting his shoulders sag. “That was close.”
“Come on now, Jacob,” Kasumi said brightly, “You know I’d never let you down.” She accentuated her words with a wink and a devious smile on her brightly painted lips. Jacob looked like he wasn’t quite sure how to react to that, but in the end he chuckled and shook his head.
“Good job, Kasumi,” Shepard said, patting the thief on the shoulder. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.” When Kasumi hissed a little in pain, Shepard immediately dropped to her knees and took a close look at the woman’s face. Beneath the hood, Kasumi’s skin was reddened and raw.
“Too much heat,” Mordin said, coming to Shepard’s side and pulling out his omnitool. “First degree burns as well. Much longer, and she wouldn’t have made it.”
“And neither would the rest of us,” added Jacob, solemnly.
“I’m fine,” Kasumi said, waving off the salarian.
“You’re not,” Shepard replied. “But it could be worse. Do you think you can…”
But before she could finish, Miranda spoke, her voice low and controlled, but full of strong emotion.
“Shepard,” she said. “You need to see this.”
I spent the day getting shot at in a cargo hold in Illium – fun times. But then I came out to the main markets to see this news-vid about myself. This vid seriously suggested that I am possessed by the spirits of the Protheans. I shit you not. It was a Hanar news station. Go figure.
It’s like sometimes they talk like I’m a hero, and sometimes they talk like I’m crazy, and most of the time I’m just a scapegoat. I do the fighting and someone else takes the credit and then I get sacrificed on a pyre at the end of it. I beginning to wonder if it matters who I work with. Alliance or Cerberus - either way, I’m being put to the torch.
The pod split open with a snap, and a spill of hot blood washed over Shepard’s knees and ran down to her ankles. The man inside fell forward, landing in her arms. Shepard buckled under the unexpected weight and sank to the floor.
The man gasped, a horrible, wrenching sound, somehow worse than a scream to her ears, and a bubble of blood spurted from his lips to run down his chin. It was then that Shepard realized that all of the man’s skin was gone. Blood covered his slick body, blood poured out of the pod to pool about her on the ground. Blood slid down her arms, thick and clotting; the only thing that was not red with blood were the whites of the man’s terrified eyes.
The man was trying to speak again, trying to scream, cry, beg, say something, but only blood came pouring out. Mangled as he was, Shepard couldn’t tell who he was or even if he had been part of the Cerberus crew.
Swallowing back a mouthful of bile, Shepard shouted for Mordin. She turned to look for him, saw him tending a woman whose face was blotched with red, but who seemed otherwise intact.
“Mordin!” she screamed again.
The salarian popped up and came running over.
“Acid of some sort,” he said. “Seems to lose corrosive power upon exposure to the open air.”
“See to him Mordin,” Shepard bit out, though she did glance down to make sure her armor was not melting.
Mordin fired up his omnitool, then shook his head. If possible, the man’s eyes grew even wider. Shepard kept her eyes turned away from him and concentrated on Mordin.
“Nothing?” she asked.
“No,” the salarian replied. “Easing his passing would waste our medigel,” he added, as if he guessed the way of her thoughts. Dimly, Shepard was aware that a small crowd had gathered behind her.
“We got out the ones we could,” Garrus told her. “The rest are gone.”
This could have been Kaidan , Shepard thought, the idea hitting her out of nowhere.
Shepard shoved the thought away as quickly as it had come. She refused to think of that. And now, she also refused to wonder who this man was and how many people would mourn him when he never came home. There was only one thing to do for him now.
“Round up the others,” Shepard barked over her shoulder. “I’ll be right there.”
As the crew behind her moved away, Shepard turned back to the man, now gasping against the pain.
“I’m sorry,” she told him softly. “I’ll stop the ones who did this. This will never happen again, I swear it.”
The man said nothing, just looked at her with those horrified eyes. She noticed they were green. An unusual color, she thought, absently.
“Forgive me,” Shepard whispered as she gently pressed her pistol under the man’s chin. The man whimpered, then his eyes closed.
Shepard swallowed, let out a breath, and then squeezed the trigger. She blinked involuntarily at the close-fired gunshot and the spray of blood. The body fell into the pool of blood at her feet. In the dim light, it was hard to tell where the body ended, and the blood began.
Gritting her teeth, Shepard holstered her pistol. Now dripping in gore, she stood and went to comfort her team.
Today was a bad day.
A lot of death - not of my team, but still. I often don’t think I can go on like this much longer. I wish I had you around to help me with the moving forward.
I just keep trying to give myself good advice and I come up blank. What was it my sergeant used to say? When in doubt, close your eyes and take deep breath. Unless you’re under fire. Then you don’t do the closing-the-eyes part.
Hmm… Not such good advice, after all.
Shepard closed her eyes and let out a long breath. Beneath her feet, the ground shifted, and she automatically took a step to steady herself. The platform lifted into the air: even though she could not see the rest of her team fading away into the shadows below her, she knew they were down there. A hot blast of hair came up from behind her, and the platform took off in that direction.
“I hate these things,” a voice said by her ear.
“Me too,” she replied, letting her eyes open.
She didn’t bother to turn and look at Garrus. That one, long breath had settled calm over her once more, and she was reluctant to let it go too quickly.
She was feeling the strain. It always hit in the same way, and always with the same thought: I don’t think I can do this.
And Shepard just shoved that doubt aside. There was, she knew, a very big different between what a person thought they could handle, and what they could actually handle.
As a teenager, she had often thought she could only run so fast, or lift so much weight during training season. The coach always pushed her a little further. The Alliance trainers had pushed her even more. But it wasn’t until Elysium, when she’d had to push herself farther than she’d ever gone before that she realized the truth: you can do nearly anything when there the only other option is death. Necessity is the fount of unlimited strength and resolve.
So Shepard finished her silent breath and shouldered her weapon again. Two-thirds through , she thought to herself. She always hit a breaking point at two-thirds of the way through the workout, and then she would gut her way through the rest of it.
She’d done it before. She’d do it again.
She just hoped the rest of her team could do the same.