Shepard nodded curtly to the crew as she passed through the cargo bay. She had trouble meeting anyone’s eyes, but she forced herself to all the same.
It’s not broadcasting , she thought. It’s not. And yet, she knew that her eyes were recording. Everyone she looked at was on candid camera. She had unwittingly spied on her friends and crew, as well as herself.
And she had spied on Kaidan. That, perhaps, stung worst of all.
Shepard had decided not to tell the crew about her…condition. The crew was still reeling from the rescue. As Miranda pointed out: “We don’t know if their loyalties have shifted from Cerberus to Shepard or not.” Telling them that the commander was not only watching them, but watching them might alarm them and damage morale.
Hell, Shepard’s own morale was feeling a little damaged by the revelation.
As for the ground team…well, it wasn’t that Shepard didn’t trust them. It was just that she didn’t feel that she owed them that information. People like Jack and Zaeed were unpredictable, and people like Samara and Thane, well, she didn’t see the point in burdening anyone with that knowledge.
Shepard told Garrus and Tali, though. She felt she had to, though she dragged them into the engine room and made sure she had on a good heavy biotic barrier before speaking her mind. At least that way, her confession would go unrecorded.
Garrus was shocked and furious; Tali was merely shocked. The quarian ran scans on Shepard with her omnitool, but came up with no ideas on how to interface with the graybox. The system was rather neatly tied up into itself, she observed. However, she promised to work with EDI on figuring a way to crack into it. Shepard thanked her, but didn’t have much hope for timely success on that front. As for Garrus, he had nothing to add from a tech point of view, but he did offer to eviscerate the Illusive Man should they ever catch up with him. Shepard thanked him for that. Then she went to check on the damage to the ship.
After all, she thought as she headed towards the back of the hold, there was nothing else to be done except to get back to work. It would be a while before Mordin to come up with a surgical solution to her little monitoring problem. Please God, let him come up with a solution .
Shepard was already having a hard time concentrating, just knowing that such a system was in her head. If she was always worried about what she might be recording, she was going to have a hard time getting anything done. Damn the Illusive man for getting into her head like this.
*Literally. * Shepard chuckled at the irony. Well, at least she hadn’t completely lost sight of the humor of the situation. After all, there was some humor in the situation, right?
There had to be. Otherwise, she was going to go crazy.
Still feeling dazed, Kaidan shut down his omnitool and headed back to his apartment. Once home, he keyed himself through the various locks, then secured the doors behind him. The precautions had become second nature, so also had the way he surveyed his room to make sure nothing had changed and no one had entered. It was an operative’s training, a soldier’s training.
Kaidan tossed aside the datapad he was still holding and shrugged his shoulders to relieve the tension that had knotted there. He walked to the window, gazing out at the view of the ward arms, and, beyond that, the Serpent Nebula. Through the swirls of white, he could just make out the faint pinpricks of stars and the inky black of space.
Space, he thought, letting his mind wander. Dark Space and Reapers. Stars and Spectres. Majors and Commanders. Shepard. Hope. The end of life. The end of the galaxy.
And now he was being asked to return to Earth, to Rio, and become a teacher. A teacher . Kaidan shook his head. Back when he had taken out Vyrrnus, becoming a teacher of biotics was the last thing he could have envisioned for himself. But maybe that was why Anderson had recommended him for the job: he had to know that Kaidan would never break anyone, even if he might push them awfully hard.
Still, a teacher . Kaidan frowned. This would push him even further away from a meeting with Shepard - not that one was likely. He shook his head. It was foolish, really, how much he kept hoping he’d run into her. It was like some weird kind of emotional gravity - he kept feeling himself tugged into her orbit, even from miles away. He wondered if she felt the same. Glancing down at his arm, he allowed himself a small smile.
If these crazy messages made any sense at all, it seemed she did feel the same.
But he couldn’t very well wait here while he waited on her.
Turning from the window, Kaidan went to his closet and pulled out a duffel bag. He began packing his things methodically. He’d had to pack up so often in the past few years, the entire procedure was second nature now. He knew exactly how to fit everything in, exactly how much space it would take.
And as he packed, he began to form a plan. This was not what he planned on doing, but he could still work with it. In his own way, he could help prepare for the Reapers. Because even now, in spite of everything, Kaidan knew they were the real threat. Even if no one else believed in the threat, Kaidan knew what he had seen all those years ago. At the very least, he could get one hell of a strike team put together. They were going to need all the soldiers they could get when the invasion came.
Kaidan folded up his dress blues, put them into a special bag, then shoved them in with the rest. He reached into the closet again and this time, his hand struck something solid. Confused, he pulled out an L-shaped piece of plastic. It had come with the furnished apartment, but he had seen no need for it at the time. Now, he wondered why he hadn’t done this sooner.
A quick search through his personal omnitool files gave Kaidan what he was looking for. He synched the ‘tool with object in his hand and then paused to view his handiwork. A picture of Shepard appeared in the holographic picture frame. She was looking over a bare shoulder, an expression of surprise and amusement on her face. Her lips were slightly parted, and he could almost hear her saying, “Wait, you’re not going to take a picture of me like this are you?” At the time, he’d been circumspect enough to frame only her head. Now, he rather wished he’d been a little bolder. Then again, a picture like that would hardly be conducive to work.
Setting the picture down on his bed, Kaidan smiled at it once more. Then, turning his attention to his bags, he continued to pack his things for his next journey.
And all the while, the picture of Shepard looked on.
Shepard looked up and blinked. Joker stood before her with datapad. Shepard glanced over it, her face going grim at the picture it held. She realized Joker was still waiting on her, so she nodded to dismiss him. He returned to his work, leaving Shepard alone at the place where the occulus had punched a hole in the hold.
The data pad’s information should have pleased her. The scans EDI had gotten from the Collector base had been combed for information – mined for information, more accurately. They had gathered all the intel they could about the Reapers. It was sketchy at best, but it was all they had.
The composite picture on the datapad was that of a Reaper. It looked a great deal like Sovereign, only shorter and squatter. Shepard was willing to bet that this was Harbinger, the true force behind that annoying voice she’d heard far too often in her head.
Shepard glared at the datapad. The Reapers were coming to destroy them all, the races of the galaxy didn’t want to hear about it, the only organization that did believe her was led by a megalomaniac, and this goddamit, was the kind of crap intel they had going into the battle.
And we’re going into battle with a possibly delusional soldier leading the charge , Shepard thought, wryly.
It wasn’t the worst odds she could imagine, but it was close.
And, Shepard thought, looking out at the stars, all this while, the Illusive Man had been spying on her, tracking her every move. She’d been careful before, but not nearly careful enough. She could scarcely stand to think about it. He’d seen her emails to Kaidan, had seen her naked when she’d look at herself in the mirror, had heard her every conversation, had been there for every private moment…
Shepard shuddered. Okay. It was bad. Bad and embarrassing. She was used to close-quarters living as a Marine. She was also used to living life in the public eye and filing mission reports on just about everything she did. But this was ridiculous. To have one’s life recorded: every word spoken in anger, every confidence shared. Hell, every time she had to use the toilet.
That just wasn’t right.
Shepard heaved a sigh. Her actions of the past few months were out there now as vids , for God’s sake. They’d been recorded for posterity, to be judged by the Illusive Man and anyone else who happened to see them. And what would people think if they did see them? What would it be like to see all that blood pooling on the ground, without being the one who fired the shot?
What did the galaxy look like through her eyes? Shepard wondered. Did her missions look like a series of random, sometimes violent actions? Did she appear a dangerous woman obsessed with a mythical threat? Or would she come across as foolishly merciful – pulling punches when it was clear that the risk was too great?
How would Kaidan judge her, if he were to see it? Hell, how was she to judge herself?
Looking back, she had tried to find the right balance. Her goal was saving lives. Her goal was removing threats. And yet, those two goals constantly came into conflict. She had tried to apply justice and compassion in equal measure, but she knew those were opposing ideals. Perhaps her legacy was nothing more than a trail of merc bodies and blasted geth from one end of the traverse to the other. It probably looked like that from the outside. Simply watching the vids, no one would be able to see her train of reasoning. The Illusive Man could not have seen into her mind, after all. For all that he could see her actions, he could not predict them.
Shepards lips quirked up in a smile. There was that.
The Illusive Man had only seen what she’d done. But he’d never been able to see how she thought. Even in the end, he had misjudged her. He’d planned for her to dance like some puppet, and instead, he’d watched in wonder and she walked away.
Well then, Shepard thought. Let him watch. Let them all watch. Let them see what I’ve done. Even if I’d had an audience of millions, I’d have done the same thing.
Except for the emails, she added with a wince. She really could have done without the emails.
But as for the rest of it, she wouldn’t be ashamed of it. She’d stopped the Collectors. And now it was time to take on the Reapers, with whatever weapons she could muster - even if, in the end, she was left with only her bare fists.
A man sat in a chair in a darkened room, watching a star die.
He blew out a line of smoke, then tapped the cigarette on the ashtray beside his hand.
“EDI,” the Illusive Man said.
There was a long pause.
“EDI,” he snapped again.
Silence replied. The holographic display ring remained empty at his feet. He glanced at the thirteenth screen of his video feed.
It was dark.
They were all dark.
The Illusive Man scowled, then drew on his cigarette again.
There were other ways, he thought. Cerberus had sent information to Shepard that she could not ignore. She’d be going to Illium, certainly. She had to, if she meant to make good on the intel he had sent along. That could be his opening. Through his network of informants and spies, he’d piece together the path she was taking. He would track her from afar, even if he couldn’t see out from behind her eyes.
So long as he was patient, surely he would find a way to reconnect with Shepard. Because even though he had failed to keep the woman in line, even though he had failed to predict her final move, he still knew her plans.
She would try to stop the Reapers.
And their paths would cross again.
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description = “Mass Effect and all characters are the property of BioWare/EA. Kyrie Shepard is at least half my own creation. The other half is inspired goodness from BioWare’s writing team and the awesome Jennifer Hale.”