Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Multiverse Desperado A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 25

Chapter 25: The Calm Before The Storm

Several months have passed since I took the role as Co-Shadow Broker. I wish I could be more exact, but after the first few weeks on the station on Hagalaz, I had completely lost relative sense of time. Even with multiple clocks, a strict work schedule and the work station emulating a proper day and night cycle, my entire time there felt one long session.

It was also the closest thing to safe in the entire Milky Way I could be while the Collectors were still out there looking for me. As well as God knows what else. Call it paranoid, I call it peak survival.

The bright side is my newfound power and authority lead to plenty of new allies and resources. The day after we had consolidated our power, Liara and I managed to track down Feron. Indirectly or not, he did play a role in us getting here after all. The vid chit we took from his place was a confession of jobs he did for the Broker in the past and that he was going to defect to the Council for asylum. We found him and managed to call off the hit. Even better, we hired him for help. Of course it took some explanation that the new boss was different from the old boss, but we did ultimately win him over by shutting down the operations he had a hand in to ease his conscience. It always pays to have a drell in your info network as well, so it was a win-win situation.

The second order of business was to arm Shepard's crew to the teeth for their big missions, both present and future. Arming the Normandy with experimental bleeding edge armor plating taken from a metallurgy experiment gone horribly right in the Terminus Systems. Equipping the weapon systems with a top of the line cannon courtesy of my boys in R&D, and calibrated by one of the best artillery experts in the galaxy, Garrus Vakarian. Top of the line propulsion systems and a complete overhaul to the Normandy's overall maneuverability, thanks to notes from both Joker and Tali. And of course, a complementary supply of my top of the line best stock.

There were even some very last minute operations we pushed his way. One to further cripple Cerberus' resources, the other to get Shepard a few last crucial shreds of help. The first was a complete shutdown of Project Overlord, a secret Cerberus project designed to completely mentally dominate the geth, with human brains as the source of power. Shepard told me Legion found the whole exercise greatly unsettling, and the poor soul that was used for the project was shipped off to Grissom Academy. There was an attempt by a krogan scientist out in the Terminus Systems to genetically engineer superior krogan supersoldiers. Ones who could develop an immunity to the Genophage. They made it just in time to prevent Cerberus from getting the data, we don't want a repeat of Virmire after all, and extracting the sole success to the project. We call him Grunt, he has the tactics of all the greatest krogan warlords in history in his head and is a peak specimen of his people. He also likes chocolate. He was completely on board with fighting the Collectors. And there was a breadcrumb trail left behind by one of Mordin Solus' medical students, Maelon Heplorn. He was performing highly unethical experimentation on willing krogan species looking for a cure for the Genophage as well but out of altruism. Mordin wanted the research destroyed, citing that it was necessary, but I implored Shepard to hold on to the research, that it would be important later. He listened.

But before Shepard and his team made their final preparations for the Omega-4 mission, I made several requests. It was the least he could do after everything that happened. The first was, admittedly, a bit of petty payback. 

But man oh man was it worth it.

Since I can't fully risk going outside the station and the Broker got a hold of all my privileges as a stockholder in my own company, I haven't exactly been able to check back in or find out who exactly else on the Committee Board sold me out. The stock and admin stuff were a few clicks and passwords away. But I really wanted to make a statement.

So using some QEC hologram tech, I projected myself into the next board room meeting.

“Good evening everyone.” I said casually to the various sharp-dressed businesswomen, their mouths agape at my sudden appearance.

“Miss T'Som, this frequency and this meeting is for board members only.” Zela interjected, her violet face twitching in annoyance.

“Oh how right you are, of course, thank you for reminding me. Shepard, come in and take her away.” I replied, gesturing over my shoulder. Commander Shepard then physically entered the board room accompanied by Justicar Samara and Thane Krios.

“Zela Madine. Commander Shepard, Council's Special Operations Tactics and Reconnaissance. You are under arrest.”
“This is an outrage! You can't arrest me in the middle of a meeting!” Zela seethed in impotent rage as she was put in restraints.

“Oh thank you once again Zela. You are absolutely right.” I mentioned again barely able to contain my glee as I moved an ice cream sundae into frame, cherry and all, “take her confidants away as well.”

By the time it was over, there was just me and four other asari in the room. Shepard and his team returned. I took out a spoon, ate a few bites, then composed myself.

“Well then, on to business. As you may know, there was a bit of a coup that happened at this company recently. Someone who thought they could get rid of me and pull this company into a direction more viable long-term. And while that is understandable, looking to the decades ahead and all, but I'd appreciate it a lot more if you at least had some dignity about it...” I snapped down on the cherry for emphasis, “...and not get caught with a smoking gun.”

The remaining board members exchanged looks of shock and confusion.

“As much as I appreciate the celebrity status we have as heads of companies here in the asari republics, the interviews, the parties, the-” I looked away in partial embarrassment, “-titillating photoshoots for Sexiest CEO competitions, I like to think of myself as a woman of standards. When you are caught participating in a red dust smuggling ring, kidnapping corporate opponents, paying assassins to deal with certain people in your way... “ I threw a quick look over to Thane on that comment, “...and working with the Shadow Broker, which may I remind everyone here is a dangerous criminal organization, all take me down in a hostile takeover, you have no place here at this company.”

I swear I could hear at least one of them audibly gulp in anxiety. I finished my sundae in utter silence.

“Miss T'Som...what exactly happened with you and the Shadow Broker then?” One of the asari spoke up, her eyes like a doe in headlights.
“Simple.” I flashed a toothy smile. “I won.”
The rest of the board broke off eye contact with me, looking back at the holo display in the middle of the table, expressions ranged from terror to nervous.
“So before we go over the details of the meeting, may I ask how was everyone's weekend?” I asked casually, moving the sundae glass aside.

I never had another person try to stab me in the back at that company ever again.

The second favor was addressing a giant loose end. One last blind spot that I could not account for: The Andromeda Initiative. A project with the express purpose of identifying habitable planets in the Andromeda galaxy, and sending thousands of people from the different Council races beyond the mass relay network into dark space, millions of lightyears away to that galaxy and to colonize it. Specifically the part a certain soldier named Alec Ryder played.

Officially, Alec Ryder was a bona fide hero for humanity. He was part of humanity's historic trip through the Charon mass relay near Pluto, part of Jon Grissom's task force – yes like Grissom Academy – and even served during the First Contact War against the turians. Even after all that, he underwent the N7 program and stayed on the Citadel to serve humanity further.

Then about twenty years ago he was disgracefully discharged by the Alliance when the Council got wind of his illegal AI research. When you have a horror story like what the geth did to the quarians, the galaxy is going to have very low tolerance for such projects after all. The cited reason as for the development was an attempt to cure his wife, Ellen, who had developed an incurable disease from long-term exposure to Element Zero. She wasn't just his wife, but also a legitimate pioneer in engineering, developing human biotic implants. It was most likely due to those extraneous circumstances he wasn't executed immediately.

Which is why I found it abundantly curious that he was hired to work with Jien Garson, the eccentric billionaire behind the Andromeda Initiative. Out of everyone to hire for such an undertaking, choosing him in particular raised several red flags.

We couldn't actively shut down the Initiative itself. It was developed in the private sector, so it basically remained off the Council's radar. Plus I could only imagine every Council member kept it in the back of their mind as some form of safety net. Well if the Reapers totally wipe us out there might be hope for those guys in Andromeda.

But I had to be sure we had every possibility exhausted. Any possible development that could give us an edge.

So I hitched a ride on the Normandy with Shepard and we confronted Alec Ryder. He was on some workstation overseeing the Hyperion Ark, the massive ship responsible for preserving humanity for their six-hundred year trip. We didn't exactly blend in. A veteran of the First Contact War being accompanied by the first human Spectre and two respective heroes of the Battle of the Citadel together in the same room was going to turn some heads. It was noted that Ryder was considerably older than Shepard, more so in attitude than appearance. I kept mentally putting a streak of silver into his combed black hair, and there were more lines and wear and tear on his face compared to Shepard. Despite both of them being some of the toughest humans in the entire galaxy, Ryder looked more worn and hard-boiled.

Hands were shook, wax smiles were flashed, and we were invited back to his lab.

The doors were locked and the tone went from jovial to serious like someone flipped a switch.
“Please tell me this is important, Commander, we are getting ready to take off tomorrow and I need to double check everything.” Ryder droned on in a relaxed baritone, resting back in his chair while still maintaining a defensive body language.
“Well, Captain Ryder.” Shepard began.
“Pathfinder Ryder.” He interrupted, his mouth twitching into something resembling a prideful smile.
“Pathfinder,” Shepard continued, “we have some concerns regarding the surprisingly fast progress that the initiative has achieved since you joined. And given your personal history and the nature of your discharge.”
“Get to the point, Shepard.”
“We know you've still been developing AI to move the Initiative along.” I interrupted. Subtle as a tomahawk to the head; sometimes it's a good thing.

Surprising no one, Ryder pulled out a pistol aimed at my head. “Choose your next words very carefully Miss T'Som.”
“Well honestly I'm regretting my wardrobe choice if I was going to be threatened with a pistol for the second time this month.” I replied, looking at my formal business dress. His grip didn't loosen. Shepard went to his sidearm as well but I gestured to both of them to calm down.
“First thing's first, we're not here to take you in. As you said, you're gonna be humanity's representative in Andromeda. It would be awkward if you were incarcerated the day before, especially after your discharge from the Alliance.”
“Nobody wants that.” Shepard commented, his hand remaining hovering over the sidearm.
“Then please, present your evidence that I've been working on AI against the wishes of Council space in the private sector.” Ryder replied, his body becoming noticeably more tense.
“Well aside from your prior AI development from before, there was the fact that there are accounts of you talking with a quarian engineer with significant experience analyzing the geth.”
“That's correlation, little blue detective, not causation.” Ryder chided.
“Countless purchases made by various tech companies, specifically VI development and recent software for implants.”
“We have a lot of biotics coming with us, we have to be sure their implants don't malfunction or break down with six-hundred years of stasis.” Ryder quickly replied.
“Yes,” I said with a smile, “which is something that would be the concern of people outside of your department.” Ryder's jaw tightened.
“And there is a transcript my sources have discovered of you actively seeking the aid of the Shadow Broker to obtain research from other underground AI development projects before they were shut down by the Alliance, the Council, or Shepard's own network of shadow troopers.”
“You have no evidence of tha-” I cut him off by playing the audio. “-ahhh shit.”

Ryder moved to shoot but Shepard already had his pistol drawn. “Stand down, Ryder. People hear shots it'll draw attention. You wouldn't want that. Like she said, we're not here to arrest you.”
Ryder finally relaxed his stance and let his arms drop. Shepard holstered his pistol.
“Alright, what do you want to know?”
“Well we want to see if it can be used in controlled environments for combat applications. Coordination, logistics. You know, viability for clandestine missions.”
“For the Council? You have a death wish too?” Ryder remarked.
“Actually this is for a personal mission I'm undertaking. Spectre authority I think will override the Council's concerns.” Shepard commented.
“Like that'll work.”
“I already have a geth on my crew taking orders and being an invaluable asset. I don't see why not.” Shepard's tone was so matter of fact it almost made me surprised. It got a cocked eyebrow and a bemused smirk from Ryder nonetheless.

Ryder turned around in his chair and activated several instruments on his table. And introduced us to Simulated Adaptive Matrix, or SAM. Ryder explained that SAM was originally designed with the express purpose of enhancing and improving organic life, working in tandem with specialized implants based on the tech Ellen designed and taken to a new extreme. For comparison, biotic amps are plugged into the nervous system, SAM's implants are slipped into the nervous, circulatory, endocrine function, and exteroceptive systems. I actually had to stop myself from making a Six Million Dollar Man joke from how extensive it was.

The idea was that it was going to bolster Ellen's immune system, to help it fight off the disease while repairing the damage done. But when Garson hired Ryder, it was to help with coordinating the large undertaking of the various Arks and the central command center, The Nexus. Andromeda doesn't have mass relays or a Citadel of its own, so it made sense to develop something on that level and fast. What better way than to utilize SAM's other useful features. While SAM is plugged into a node, its own personal housing and data bank, everyone with implants can communicate with one another through secure channels and the AI gets a constant data stream of their physical and mental health. There's also a noticeable increase in combat survival thanks to enhanced situational awareness and the ability to control adrenal function.

SAM is also able to record their actions. Not just their physical actions but their thoughts, their various learned skills. He can then project them to someone else, allowing them to utilize that skillset as if it was their own. Your own personal archive of skill profiles for whatever you need in a pinch.

“Holy shit...”I gasped in disbelief.

“How the hell hasn't this thing gone rampant and converted people into husks or something?” Shepard remarked.

“Because nobody in their right mind actively wants to be one of those. So SAM keeps them as is. And since SAM's sense of self-preservation is tied in part to those in his network surviving, his lateral thinking skills and problem solving are tailor-made to ensure everyone lives.”

My eyes widen in revelation. “ A computer only does what you program it to do. And since SAM works on its own isolated network through these implants, he can be handled in concentrated instances. No out of control hive mind like the geth or murderous existentialism.” I remarked. “You created an AI whose very intended goal is symbiotic in nature and adhered to a limited but flexible form and function.”

“Now you're getting it Miss T'Som. Unfortunately the profiling system is still being worked on. You can't exactly sling dark energy around without biotic amps, a human being can't get a benefit of a krogan battle rage, simple biological incompatibility that can lead to problems if you're not careful. In fact it's so tempermental and prone to abuse and possible long-term neurological damage I restrict its use to few select candidates and in controlled situations only.”

“How many of these SAMs have you developed?” Shepard asked.

“One for each Ark, and wired to their respective Pathfinder. Asari, turian, salarian, krogan, and human obviously.”

Shepard and I traded looks.

“Name your price.” I stated.


“How much would it take to have another SAM developed, a node installed on the SSV Normandy and implants to be used on key crew and personnel in a short amount of time. The sky's the limit...or at least a few million credits if I call in some favors.” I replied, my Omni-Tool out ready to wire whatever amount declared.

“Miss T'Som I'm going to another galaxy tomorrow, that money is basically useless.”


“And don't bring up next of kin either. My children Scott and Sara are coming with me to Andromeda.”
I slouched over in defeat. Dammit.

“But you know something. If whatever the hell you're going after is so dangerous it has Commander Shepard asking for my help. I think I'll make an exception. SAM, do we have any more of your baseline templates on file?” Ryder inquired.

A cool masculine voice droned on around us. “As a matter of fact, yes. I was just about to delete it when I overheard your conversation. I am assuming that plan has changed.”

“As a matter of fact it has.” Ryder said with a smile.

“I'll let the crew make some room and inform Tali that she has a project ahead of her.” Shepard replied.

“My people have already forwarded materials and schematics to the Normandy.” Ryder smiled. Tapping his temple as if to answer the follow-up question.

Shepard blinked. “I'll go back to the hangar and tell my people to make way.” and he took off out of the room.

Then it was just me and Ryder in the room together. The Hyperion Ark floating outside his window. I cleared my throat and turned away from him, focusing on the Ark instead.

“You should really be proud of what you're about to do, you know?” I spoke up, breaking the silence.

“Yeah. Going off the map, seeing if there are any dragons out there. Quite terrifying, but oh so exciting.”

“Yeah. We'll try not to wreck the place while you're out.” I chuckled. I thought I heard a jovial grunt from Ryder.

“You know, Miss T'Som. The Leusinia Ark is looking for a few more volunteers. They could use someone like you, bring your engineering expertise to the unknown. I could put in a good word for you.”

A trip to the Andromeda galaxy. Leave the Milky Way behind. No Reapers, no Collectors, no Cerberus. No friends... no help... no idea of what to do.... Condemning countless trillions to death....

“Sorry, Pathfinder,” I turned to him and put on my best smile, “my path is here.”

“Well, if that's the case, then I wish you the best of luck.” He held out his hand.

“Same to you.” I shook it. 

The following day the Nexus and the Arks ventured off into dark space never to be seen again. A few days later SAM was successfully installed on the Normandy. The cover story was that SAM was a prototype military tactical VI, most of the personnel bought it. But Shepard remained relatively silent about it to his team. Progress can't be forced after all, they're still getting used to Legion on the ship. I know I'd accidentally pull a weapon on him just on pure reflex alone. Don't want to add to the awkwardness by having a synthetic mind in my nerves and brain.

In retrospect, that last visit ended up being more about giving Shepard yet another advantage. I'm not gonna complain. Sometimes the universe gives you a cookie.

Then the moment of truth came. Shepard's team made the plunge to strike at the Collector's core, to end their mass abduction of human colonies and strike a critical blow against the Reapers. Honestly, it was terrifying knowing that I wasn't with them. I wanted to be sure they'd all survive and too much has changed for me to leave anything to chance. But this was the one crucial step I had to leave almost entirely to faith.

But it didn't stop me from having a nightmare about what they were facing. The Brood ships of the Collectors swarming around their base. The shear danger of the base being near the galactic core, full of gravity wells and dangerous anomalies. Then there was what was inside. Millions of insect-like Seeker Swarms that can paralyze anyone with a single bite. The particle beam weapons wielded by their bipedal shock troops. The horrendous mutated monsters and giants. Worse still, the fact that any one of them can be directly controlled by one of the Reapers like Sovereign did to Saren. Overclocking even the most disposable of drones into an engine of terrifying power.

Then there was the greatest horrors yet to come. The ones I didn't want to bring up to the others. The ultimate fate of the Protheans, the apex species of the Milky Way galaxy, weren't just victims of the Reapers' galaxy-wide culling; they also became servants. The Collectors...were them. Heavily genetically modified with all rebellion and individuality ripped out of them. 

And the countless thousands of humans being abducted? They were being used as raw material to create a new Reaper, one with all the qualities of humanity but dedicated to the Reaper cause of ending organic life. No matter what I could tell Shepard, no matter how many of the best and brightest I could get to his cause, no matter how many weapons, shields, armor, or resources I could forward to him, nothing can fully prepare you for that.

Yet, I had to imagine it going right. The team rescuing as many as they can. Joker's piloting skills getting them through the outside defenses. Mordin finding a counter for the Seeker Swarms. Tali and Kasumi collaborating on hacking and infiltrating the security of the place. Thane, Samara and Grunt using their combat skills to break through Collector ranks. Garrus and Shepard's expertise in tactics and demolitions to find just the right spots to place bombs. SAM helping to coordinate them all, to make sure there are no slips-ups or itchy trigger fingers. The close calls. The points of no return. The final plunge into the belly of the beast. The chaotic battle against the Proto-Reaper. The discovery of the nerve center of the base. The bombs going off. The mad chaotic dash through the base as it falls apart like an elaborate bee hive getting crushed together with a computer hardware factory. The Collectors collapsing under all the duress as Harbinger roars out one last haunting threat to his proxies.
“You have failed. We will find another way.”

The escape. The jump back to civilized space. The grand collective exhale to the breath no one consciously knew they were holding.

It was a comforting thought to cling to.

Then the return happened. The Normandy was one hiccup away from snapping in half. Everything except the atmospheric control systems were torn apart. The cannons had overheated to the point of the internal parts melting. Half of the ship's personnel had died keeping the whole thing together. The ride back was so hellish Joker had to be committed to a full-body cast afterwards, it's a miracle he lived through it at all with the brittle bones he inherited from Vrolik's Syndrome. The rest of Shepard's team didn't fair much better. Garrus had lost part of his jaw. Tali suffered so many bullet wounds she was on the verge of dying of toxic shock. Everybody else was being held together by globs of medi-gel and pure grit.

But as the Alliance arrived to rescue and tend to the crew, Shepard sent out one simple message when it was over. “They're coming. We need to be ready.”

Thankfully after that nightmarish mission, things settled into an oddly zen period. In the nights between our ongoing attempts to fund the Crucible project and twist criminal organizations' arms into getting the Reaper War Machine up and running early all while cutting through bureaucratic red tape like goddamn samurai sword, Liara continuously pulled up various forms of asari culture for me to view. It was the weirdest form of workplace detox I ever undertook, but I did ultimately appreciate it; the material and the candid company we now shared. I mean if I did honestly want to be a part of this world as one of her people it had to be for other reasons other than the telekinesis and melding, so she was eager to share things that just could not be fully appreciated on the other side of a television monitor.

I developed a liking for the thirty-hour long romance epics and the poetry. They were just the right level of saccharine and poignant to stick with me. Which was weird considering how condescending and trite I found stuff like it on the Hallmark channel five years and a lifetime ago. Part of me wanted to believe it was just comforting to know that such stories of love and friendship across the stars could still exist devoid of gun battles and the fate of entire planets resting on the heroes' shoulders.

But as the weeks dragged on my pace became more hurried, the workload more intensified. I could feel an invisible clock ticking down to the Reapers making their next move. It could be tomorrow, or next week, or maybe they've already showed up and there was a gap in the network that we forgot to check. Despite the smiles and the brisk work ethic Liara and I settled into, I was utterly paranoid of when the other shoe would drop.

I then had to casually mention it was a day or so past my birthday. My actual birthday, not the birthday of my asari form. It was the best measurement I had. So in a weird attempt to make up for the whole thing, Liara surprised me with a visit from Jack, albeit with a cane (god twenty-second century medicine is amazing), some fancy asari vintage wines and a collection of films from my time.

“You cannot be serious.” I replied, mouth agape.

“Well you've been so accepting of asari culture, I wanted to get a first-hand account of films and media you enjoy. It should be quite stimulating from an anthropological perspective.” Liara beamed.

“Leave it to you to make a simple movie night sound boring, doc,” Jack rolled her eyes.

I tried several times to start a sentence. “Liara we... there's still so much to do. What about freezing Henry Lawson's assets and finding asylum for Oriana? You know, the guy whose so in bed with the Illusive Man they're practically conjoined twins?”


“Jacob Taylor's father? The whole Flowers For Algernon situation with the-”

“They've been extracted and court martial'd already, I just got word from Admiral Hackett.”

“The securing of the Ardat Yakshi asylum on Thessia? The Temple of Athame?”


“Final preparations for the Crucible?” I rambled, flipping through my console for anything else to do. “The scheduled martial drills with the commandos? Cleaning the base for listening devices or bugs? Scrubbing the bathroom!?”

“Oh for fuck's sake, blue. A couple of drinks and old movies aren't gonna kill ya!” Jack finally yelled.

“I have to agree with Jack. There is such a thing as working too hard. And who knows if we'll ever get another opportunity like this.” Liara motioned to a holo display emulating a flat screen TV. “Now am I going to have to hit a random film or do you want some say in the matter?”

I looked at the chilled bottle of asari wine and back to Liara and Jack. With a flick of the wrist and a thought, I popped the cork.

All told, the selections by Liara seemed comprehensive. Films that have won multiple awards by various film academies, both the classics and the undeserved flavors of the week. For every Casablanca or Lord of the Rings there was a Crash or The Artist to sift through. A lot of odd foreign films that I had no real experience with, which honestly I want to chalk up to her not fully grasping that globalism was something humanity kind of struggled with until the Prothean discovery on Mars. And an untold amount of movies that I sincerely never would have guessed were made by human beings, bolstered on to creative optimism between the discovery of mass relays and the first contact.

So I humored Liara. A few black and white classics here, some Shakespearean adaptations there. Even a few movies within my lifetime of the 1990s and 2000s got a screening. I honestly lost track of time and the wine was a lot more heady than I had initially anticipated.

Then Jack asked the question that was in the back of my head for the past few hours. “Where the hell's the crap!?” she slurred.

Liara blinked several times. “Excuse me?”

“Where's the crap!? The piece of shit movies!”

“Oh dear god you're right!” I exclaimed. “We haven't seen anything really bad. Just award winners and fancypants artsy stuff.”

“I-I-I don't understand.” Liara stuttered. “How can you find any entertainment in that?”

“Oh god you've never riffed anything in your life??” I declared in shock. “What have you been doing with your life!?” Liara gave me a sleepy look of confusion.

My hands moved in a blur, I hardly even remember what weird depraved conservation site I even went to uncover this particular artifact. But somehow within five minutes I had unearthed one of the worst movies Earth has ever produced.

“What is The Room?” Jack asked. “And why is it labeled as a comedy?”

“I think I heard about this. Didn't it get nominated for some of your Academy Awards?” Liara mumbled.

“Nope!” I barked out in laughter. “That was a movie about the making of this movie. The director, producer, writer, and star of the movie was a bizarre recluse of a guy and the whole production was so batshit insane it had to be seen to be believed. Also it's only a comedy after the fact. It's actually trying to be a serious character drama.”

“Goddess... I think I'm going to need another drink.”

“I'll join you.” Jack and I replied in unison.

So the impromptu human media appreciation movie night ended with a screening of The Room. And it was glorious. Liara kept on asking whether or not humanity made first contact before the turians or not just on the shear baffling build, mannerisms and attitude of Tommy Wiseau. Liara falling into a fit of giggles at the rapidfire flower shop scene. The baffling surreality of seeing a bunch of adults playing football in an alleyway while wearing tuxedos. Liara choking on her drink at the casual mention of breast cancer and her utter confusion at that plot thread never coming up again. Jack and I losing our minds in laughter at the terrible attempt to emulate James Dean with the infamous “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” line. And of course, the weirdly perverse glee at seeing Tommy Wiseau awkwardly throw a hissy fit and then shoot himself... only for supporting characters to wander in and ask if he's dead while staring at him in a puddle of his own blood with a bullet hole in his head.

By the time the credits rolled, Jack had passed out on the couch and Liara and I had somehow wound up wrapped around each other in a blanket.

“You know, Shepard might get jealous if he sees us like this.” I mumbled, trying to fight off sleep.
“Oh I don't know about that.” Liara nuzzled my neck. “Besides, technically didn't you have a thing for me before Shepard?”

“Liara, you're drunk, it wouldn't be right.” I deflected, quietly guiding her down.

“I didn't hear a no,” she smiled. “ I mean, I must have been in your head one way or another for you to show up like this.” She then rested her head in my breasts. I shivered slightly at the sensation.

“Well... you're not wrong. In a way I thought it would be simpler.” I mused.

“Mmmm,” Liara curled up, looking up in curiosity.

“I mean, one gender, be with whoever you want. A widespread popular religion that preaches unity and tolerance. The perspective of hundreds of years. I just thought it'd be simpler.”

“Is it not the same with humanity? They look no different from each other than asari do. And don't I hear you repeating Christian beliefs every now and then?” She mumbled through the fabric of my shirt.

My mind flickered back to memories of a past life. I shut my eyes in frustration and shut it out.

“What you've seen is humanity at their best. Right now they've stopped fighting...for the most part. Where I come from the fighting... never seems to stop. For some reason or another, we tear each other apart for ridiculous reasons and it... makes me very sad.” I chose my words carefully. I could feel the fire and anger that I haven't felt since I first met Jump build up again. I took some deep breaths.

“But I guess...the more things change, the more they stay the same. The whole government and corporate culture feels like I'm in high school again. But everyone is a gossipy self-obsessed mean girl.” I chuckled at the comparison. “And for a race that preaches love and understanding, there are so many moments where they think way too much about themselves. Looking down on races for not living as long. I mean...I actually heard an asari girl said she'd just 'tough it out for a few decades' when it came to dating a human. Can you imagine?”

Liara slurred something unintelligble.

“But... you know what? I'm glad I'm here. I mean... despite how messed up everything has gotten, how much I've dabbled with the status quo, and the whole 'eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we may die' thing we have right now. I don't regret a thing.”

I felt Liara snooze off. I smiled and bundled us a little closer together.

“Good night, Liara.”

I then looked over to the calendar for the first time in forever. I then turned to Jack. The serial killer turned teacher for the future. “Happy Valentine's Day, Jack.”

And then sleep finally began to take me. “I'll try to...get you some candy or...somethin'...”

When I woke up, Earth was swarmed with the Reapers. 

1 comment:

  1. This is why Valentine's Day sucks. Just when it's all over, bam. Alien invasion. Every time.