I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘follow your heart’ is just something they put at the end of vids and songs when they don’t know what else to say. It sounds like a moral lesson, but it’s bullshit.
Obviously, you can go wrong following your heart. I sure as hell did when it came to you and me. I look back at everything that has happened since I woke up on that Lazarus lab table and all I can think is that I should have thought things through a little more.
Point is, your heart, or instinct or whatever, can point you in a million different ways at the same time. My gut instinct on Elysium was to run like hell. That would have saved me – well, maybe – but it certainly wouldn’t have saved anyone else. And most days, my gut instinct is to drink nothing but coffee and eat nothing but brownies. But you know as well as I how well that would go over for a biotic.
I mean, that’s what we have brains for, right? Seems to me the measure of person is how well we balance our hearts and our heads.
Shepard blinked and stared. Her eyes traveled up and up and then still further up. Never breaking her gaze, she slowly shook her head.
“It looks like the Terminator,” she said.
“The what?” Miranda asked.
“It’s a robot,” Shepard murmured absently. “From an old vid.”
“This couldn’t have been in a vid, Shepard,” Miranda told her. “No one’s been here before us.”
“That’s not…” Shepard shook her head again. “Never mind.”
“Technically,” EDI put in over the comm link. “This is a Reaper.”
“A what ?” Miranda gasped. “That’s not possible.”
“It appears to still be in an embryonic state,” EDI went on. “It was made with the organic materials extracted from all the lost colonists.”
“Wait,” Garrus said, his mandibles flaring. “They melted the lost colonists down to make this ?”
“Holy hell…” Shepard trailed off as Miranda began drilling EDI with questions about the thing that hung at the center of the Collector base. While it still looked like a giant version of a robot sent down to a sci-fi vid set by the props department, the more Shepard knew about how it was made, the more sickened she became.
“So those people we saw just now,” Shepard said, “The ones who melted right in front of us. They’re in this thing right now?”
“I cannot determine what organic material belongs to specific humans,” EDI replied. “The genetic code has been significantly modified to grow this Reaper. It also appears to have a great deal of non-organic elements to it. It is a cyber-organic hybrid unlike any I’ve seen before.”
“Cyber-organic hybrids,” Shepard muttered. “The company I keep…”
“My God,” Miranda said. “If this is how they make Reapers…”
Then so many things make sense , Shepard thought. The lost Cerberus team talked about hearing ‘dreams’ of the Reapers. Could there have been some sort of lingering consciousness in the very walls of the Reaper, left behind from the long-dead race that created it? Could that be how indoctrination worked? That the longer one walked within a Reapers, the more one was influenced to merge with it?
But then, Shepard thought, if that was so, who created the Reapers, and why? Had their creation been an accident? Or had some arrogant, totalitarian race long ago turned themselves into a single being on purpose? And could it be that all the galactic purgings of the past were merely the way Reapers reproduced.
Reapers reproducing. Now there was a harrowing thought.
Damn. Shepard suddenly wished she had Liara with her to run some of these theories by the Prothean expert. If they got out of there alive, Shepard decided her first order of business would be to head straight to Illium and get some more answers.
But, Shepard thought, this explained one quirk of the Reapers, at least. She had previously assumed the way the Reapers referred to themselves as ‘we’ was just a way of indicating there were many of them out in dark space. But if each Reaper was actually made up of a plurality, well, they were probably just referring to themselves. And what was it Sovereign had once said?
We are Legion.
Right . Shepard shivered. And this was why she disliked AI so much. A single personality could be spoken to, reasoned with – one could try to understand it. A mob with an agenda, however – there was no way to argue with that .
Nope. There was just one thing to be done here.
“Alright,” Shepard said, still not taking her eyes from the Reaper. “Let’s blow this thing.”
“Why does it have three eyes if it’s supposed to be human?” Garrus wondered aloud.
“Garrus,” Shepard repeated.
The turian reached for his pack, but just then, the three eyes opened.
“Oh damn,” Miranda said.
Instantly, the three of them ducked behind cover, only to find that cover compromised by yet another wave of Collector drones. And as for the Reaper, it showed that even in an embryonic state, it could still fight like hell.
“Garrus!” Shepard hollered between bouts of gunfire. “Miranda and I will take out the bugs. You do the sharp-shooting.”
“What?” The turian yelled back.
“Shoot that damn robot down!” Shepard yelled to him.
Garrus nodded, then jumped up above cover with his sniper rifle and took aim at the mechanisms holding the human Reaper in place.
The battle lasted only a few minutes: intense gunfire, smoke and screeching from the Reaper, and four distant explosions as the bindings holding the thing broke. The last binding shattered in a mess of glass and liquid. Shepard ducked as some kind of golden puss showered over all of them. It smelled like iron and sweat, and she tried not to think about what was in it. Some of it must have gotten into Garrus’ mouth, because he spat and swore.
“We’re covered in…” he began.
“Don’t say it,” Shepard said, striding to the center of the platform they’d docked with. “Don’t say it; don’t think it. Just blow it up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Miranda replied.
But blowing the stations was easier said than done. A moment’s consultation with EDI showed the station’s central hub, but even when they got to it and crouched down beside it, it was hard to determine what power lines would most effectively cause a chain reaction to take out the whole station.
“It’s like bulls-eying womp rats back home,” Shepard muttered, wiping grease into her hair.
“What?” Miranda asked.
“Nothing,” Shepard replied. “More old vids. Why can I remember old vids perfectly at a time like this and not be able to figure out this damn schematic? EDI? You got something for us yet?”
“So long as this central power hub overloads,” Garrus assured her, “The whole thing ought to go. We could double check with Tali…”
“She’s escorting the crew back to the ship,” Miranda replied. “We don’t want to distract her.”
“Right,” Garrus nodded.
“EDI!” Shepard shouted into her comm. “We’re running out of time. Do you have a suggestion as to where to place these explosives for maximum blast?”
“I am sorry, Shepard,” EDI replied politely. “I am currently configuring the quantum entanglement communicator to work with the Omega 4 relay.”
“You… Wait. What?” Shepard blinked. “Why would you…?”
Just then Miranda’s omnitool started blinking.
“Shepard,” she said. “There’s a message coming in for you from the Illusive Man.”
Shepard stood immediately as a holographic image of the man’s torso and head unfolded from the ‘tool on Miranda’s arm.
“What the hell is this?” Shepard snapped at the image. “We’re in the middle of a critical mission and you requisition my ship’s AI to patch you through on a phone call ? My troops are in gunfire back there! We don’t have time for this.”
“Still, Shepard,” the man said, a congratulatory smile on his lips, “You’ve done the impossible.”
“I’m about to do a lot more,” Shepard replied. “This base is about ten minutes from extinction.”
“Wait!” the Illusive Man said. “I’m looking at the schematics.”
“Yeah,” Shepard replied. “So are we. So unless you have some advice about how to quickly blow this place up, get off my comm link and stop distracting me and my crew.”
“Shepard,” the Illusive man urged. “Stop and think. The Collectors were building a Reaper. That knowledge, that technology. It’s too valuable to lose. Think of all we could do with it.”
“I don’t know…”
“Don’t be short-sighted,” the man urged. “We know little of the Reaper’s intentions, even less of their technology. If we destroy it, we lose the chance to ever find out how to beat them. We need to use the Reaper’s weapons against them. Think of it,” he went on. “The Reapers are coming – you’ve seen the visions, Shepard. We have nothing to stop them, nothing to work with. But with this base – we could have an army ready to meet them.”
Shepard frowned, remembering the visions from the beacons she’d touched over the course of the last few years. There had been blood, so much blood, and tubes and a sense of being pressed between sheets of glass. She could still picture the worlds, dead and empty, the sense that the galaxy was clean now of any advanced life.
But worst of all was that harrowing feeling that the visions had left her with – that a great tidal wave was coming, bound to wash over all life and there was nothing – nothing at all in the way to stop it.
Perhaps, she thought, if there had been something between them and the Reapers, the Protheans might have survived. Surely, she thought, survival took priority.
“Okay,” she said slowly. “This place isn’t exactly portable. What’s at the galactic core stays at the galactic core. What did you have in mind?”
The Illusive Man grinned. “Just set the reactor to off a radiation pulse rather than overloading it. That should kill all the Collectors on the station, but it will keep the infrastructure intact.”
“And you just happen to notice this at the last minute,” Shepard said, suspiciously.
“I’ve been studying this base since the moment you arrived…”
“And wasting EDI’s resources to do it.”
“Look, Shepard. We need this weapon. It’s our only chance.”
“Shepard,” Miranda murmured, but that was all she said.
Garrus just shifted nervously from foot to foot. “Whatever you do,” he said. “Make up your mind quickly. “We don’t have much time.”
“That’s true,” Shepard replied.
Then it struck her how ironic that was. Here she had prepared everything for this mission for months, and now a decision like this was being thrust on her with only the barest of moments to make up her mind. Somewhere back in that station, the rest of the team fighting the Collectors and somewhere else, Tali and Kasumi were leading her team back to a ship that was empty save for Joker and EDI. And everywhere else in the galaxy, people were going about their lives, oblivious to the destruction that was racing towards them.
And that right there was the strongest argument for saving this base. Shepard knew she’d failed in rallying the Alliance to her side. The Council still thought she was crazy. Only the Illusive Man believed her visions about the Reapers and if she was to fight this battle alone, they were going to need the biggest weapon possible to hold the line.
Shepard knew what her gut was telling her: the Reapers needed stopping. So take the weapon, whatever it was, and bludgeon the threat to death. That seemed the most obvious option.
But another thought whispered at the back of her mind. It was a needling voice of caution and it had been growing louder the longer she crouched here, thinking. It was as if that voice just needed a few moments of calm and clarity to be heard, and finally it spoke. If she had to give a name to it, it was probably the voice of reason. No wonder it seemed to have Kaidan’s soft tone to it:
A sword cuts both ways.
Shepard’s mouth set as she remembered a dozen other ‘weapons’ that Cerberus had tried to wield in the past. There had been the rachni, the Thorian’s remains, hell, even that dead Reaper had sent the whole team insane.
Still, she reasoned back, if she didn’t use the weapon she was given, then what would she use to fight the Reapers? She couldn’t very well use her bare hands.
Why not?, that soft voice seemed to say in reply. At least you know you can trust your fists.
Well, I did punch Saren in the head when he had me cornered, Shepard thought. Startled the hell out of that indoctrinated bastard. Why not a Reaper, too?
Shepard smirked and looked down at her hands. They seemed rather small in comparison with the mass of technology surrounding them. Dirty, too. The dark synthetic leather was covered with soot and human remains. Instinct for survival warred with instinctive caution for a moment more, and then Shepard made up her mind. Or maybe one instinct edged out the other. Either way, she shook her head at the flickering holograph.
“It’s too big a risk,” she said firmly. “Even if we were to share this with the Alliance or the Council, it would get used badly. And most likely, it would indoctrinate the very people who tried to study it.”
Even as she said the words, they sounded right. The path before her looked clearer.
“It’s too big a risk,” she told the Illusive Man. “We’re blowing it up – as planned.”
“Shepard!” he snapped. “Don’t be stupid! My goal is to save humanity. Imagine what we could do with this – the technologies we could unlock.”
“And imagine the mess it would be if we grew our own Reapers and they turned on us. Hell, that’s probably how the Reapers got started in the first place.”
“This is a gift, Shepard,” the Illusive Man said. “Imagine the lives that will be lost if you turn this gift away.”
“And yet,” Shepard replied, “I’ve made up my mind. We fight without it. We don’t let fear drive us to foolish decisions.”
” This is the foolish decision,” the Illusive Man shouted back. “If you destroy this, the Reapers will win! The blood of millions will be on *your * head.”
“Well guess what?” Shepard said, her patience truly snapping. “The blood of millions is already on my head. Literally . And my hands. And I think I have some in my boots, too. So don’t you sit there, lily-clean in your secret base on the other side of the galaxy and tell me what to do. You sent me to do a job. You had me take all the risks, had me take all the blame. Well here’s the thing: if you sent me, then I make the call. And this is my call. This base is blown.”
“I thought better of you, Shepard,” the Illusive Man sneered.
“Funny. I didn’t think better of you, and it looks like I was right. Seems to me you planned to direct me like some puppet. If so, you picked the wrong soldier.”
“You have no idea what you’re doing here,” he shouted at her. This is our chance , Shepard. Our one chance to save humanity.”
“At what cost?” Shepard shot back. “This thing ,” she pointed at the baby Reaper, though she doubted he could see it through the holograph connection, “is far more likely to end up biting us all in the collective galactic ass than to help us out. It’s too dangerous, too unpredictable. We’d be too damn arrogant to keep it. We’re sticking with the original plan. We blow it up.”
“We’re done here,” Shepard replied. “Garrus, Miranda, we got confirmation on the placement of these explosives?”
She turned her back on the holograph and went back to work.
“Shepard!” the Illusive Man cried. “Think of what you’re doing here!”
“I did,” Shepard replied. “Would you rather I think about it more? ‘Cause I think I’m going to think my way to the same conclusion every damn time.”
“Miranda,” he snapped, the holograph turning around to look at the woman holding it. “Stop Shepard. Don’t let her destroy the base.”
“Or what?” Miranda said, her eyes narrowing. “You’ll replace me next?”
“I’m giving you an order, Miranda.”
“I noticed,” she replied. “Consider this my resignation.”
And with that, the holograph flickered off. Echoing silence filled the empty chamber.
“Thank you, Lawson,” Shepard said, reaching for an explosive.
“Don’t mention it,” Miranda replied, handing one to her.
Shepard smirked. And so here, at the end of the journey, Miranda turned out to be an ally - a friend, even. The thought gave Shepard some comfort. Given enough allies, maybe they could fight the Reapers without Reaper technology, so long as everyone banded together.
Or maybe this was a huge mistake and they’d all die. Shepard’s face grew grim at the thought. But at least they’d be taking this abomination down with them.
Shepard placed the last explosive and set the charges.