Friday, March 15, 2019

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 27

Chapter 27: Reboot, Recover, Remember

Miss T'Som... can you hear me? Miss T'Som, please respond....

Someone is calling to me...someone familiar. In my head.... SAM?

Oh thank goodness, you haven't completely lost cognitive function. That is a relief. A minor relief in the grand scheme of things, but it's a start to a full recovery.

A full recovery? What do you mean? What's going on?

That's just the problem Variza. I don't know.

I should have noticed it sooner, but SAM was right. I was expecting to wake up, to get an idea of what has happened. But instead, I was greeted by an endless void of black. Not falling, not grasping for air in some inky black nothing, but simply... not.

I tried flexing my fingers, moving my legs, even touching my nose. All amounted to nothing. No touch, no kinesthetic familiarity.

Well...if I had to venture a guess, I'm in a coma.

An astute observation Miss T'Som. According to readings I can recover from your implants it appears that your body is still operating at normal levels. Blood pressure, heartbeat, blood sugar, biotics, all still in perfect order.

But I'm guessing brain scans are analogous to a comatose patient?

Correct. Although it's difficult to tell if it was due to physical cranial trauma or if it was artificially induced.

And there is the elephant in the room.

Which is?

I can't fully remember how we got into this situation. Which means best case scenario we're in some hospital right now waiting to wake up after some hard fought battle.

And worse case scenario is we're dying a slow death on some battlefield against the Reapers because someone got a lucky shot in.

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Well I do develop personality traits based on the people that bond with me.

Either way, I do think we need to work on waking up. Because we still have a war to win. That and this situation is on my top five list of the scariest damn things to happen to me.

Between drowning and being enthralled via mind-control or between being lynched by an angry mob and being forced to kill a cat?

It's always in flux based on my mood. Which number one, hands-down.

So what do you suggest?

Cognitive recall and use the data to see if we can't restore greater ambulatory function.

Retrace the steps that lead up to whatever happened at this point and see if it doesn't shock you awake. I suppose it is worth a shot.

It also sounds like a hackneyed excuse for a clipshow.

Don't worry, Variza. Your prior history has been properly maintained in your long-term memory. Or perhaps I should call you-

Oh good then. No need to go over boring details. So where exactly should we start?

Perhaps it would be prudent to start when we first met. As I recall, you had quite explosive first contact with the Reapers.

I saw the inky blackness temporarily shift to an ominous orange red. A teeth-rattling rumble and shock I could feel and hear despite it sounding muted, like I was underwater. The screeching of a horror collapsing under endless tons of rubble.

Yeah...nuke. I'm actually really glad I didn't have to get my eyes replaced. Doctor Chakwas is a miracle worker.

It was also thanks to Tana using her Omni-Tool during the husk assault to repair your visor.

I...honestly didn't recall.

Unconscious mind, Variza. You might have missed it, but I didn't.

In that case, remind me to give her a bonus when we get out of here.

You always seem to keep putting incentives to everything you do.

What can I say, put enough carrots on a stick and eventually you get creative enough to get at them.

Moving on. Do you recall what happened once you were rescued by the Normandy?

I felt a sharp sting across my face as Liara slapped me.

“Alright, I might have deserved that.” I replied, holding my cheek.

“When exactly were you going to tell me about the Prothean?” Liara replied through her teeth, trying to hold back some of her rage.

“Yeah...” I nervously smiled, my hand reaching to scratch my scalp (one that didn't exist for years so it just awkwardly glossed over the cartilage tendrils), “you remember that weekend where I went all private for a while? I may have sent the commandos on a covert mission to find Prince Javik's pod all the way out on Eden Prime.”

“...your knowledge of our world?” Liara asked in a moment of genuine curiosity.

“Yes. And I'd rather have him on our side now than us scrambling to get him later while the Reapers were after us. Besides, particle rifle technology was something the Protheans developed later on during their war with the Reapers. I thought we could use it to not rely too much on thermal clip technology.”

“I was curious as to why Javik never had to reload that thing.” her tone was now more academic and curious than wounded.

“Combo of the particle beam tech and the overheating system the older generation of firearms used. It's powerful, but it won't fire all the time. On the whole, more reliable for prolonged encounters with the Reapers.”

“Is it always guns with you, Variza?”

I turned away, “It was...also an instance of not wanting you to get your hopes up with Javik.”


I took a few steps and sat down on the bed in the med bay.

“You know the human expression 'never meet your idols?' I know your first reaction upon finding out a Prothean survived the Reapers would be one of curiosity. To want to ask questions, to learn more about their Empire. But Javik isn't exactly the most talkative. I mean, you did catch that he called us primitives back on Thessia, right?”

Liara sat down next to me, “Nothing more than cultural differences. The Prothean Empire was characterized by superiority and honor among their own.”

“And look how well that turned out for them. Stand among the ashes of a trillion dead souls and ask the ghosts if honor matters. Their silence is your answer.”

Liara gulped at my macabre phrase. “You don't believe that... do you?”

“No. But it's where Javik is right now. Think about it. While he was around, our ancestors were either still barely thinking animals or just figuring out basic tools. Now he wakes up and suddenly we're all facing the same enemy, using the same technology-”

“-making the same mistakes.” Liara breathed. “It would make anyone rush to condescension.”

“Exactly. He is their ultimate warrior, not a philosopher or even a scientist, hell the only reason why he could replicate the particle rifle was thanks to a Collector rifle Shepard's team collected, and even he is getting a morbid sense of deja vu. Condescension is his way of coping.”

There was a a brief moment of quiet between us. The thought of history repeating itself, of a cycle doomed to forever to repeat growing in the air.
“Now if you'll excuse me, I need to be prepped for surgery.” I replied, breaking the silence.

“Wait, wha-”

“Doctor Chakwas, SAM me!”

And well you know what happened next.

Was there any particular reason why you didn't tell Miss T'Soni about the Temple of Athame?

Even as I felt the lucidity of my scene with Liara fade into the ether, I couldn't help but at least attempt to shut my eyes in dismissal.

If she knew that her people's very foundation was handled by the Protheans, she'd attack Javik, it would lead to in-fighting. Plus, it wouldn't be good for the rest of the asari. To be told that they were a science experiment by the Prothean Empire, a sort of long-term gamble against the Reapers, it would crush them. As cold as it sounds, I needed to let them keep believing that their people naturally became who they are now.

A comforting lie, over a harsh truth?

If you told me that humanity didn't slowly rise to become the dominant species on Earth by figuring out tools and communication by themselves I'd smack you in your face. If you then told me our very biology was designed for optimization in a war fifty millennia in the future, manufactured by aliens we praised as gods, I'd try to get you a stint on the Syfy Channel and see if we could make money.

Best case scenario, no one believes it. Worst case scenario, those who do believe it could sustain untold psychological damage from the revelation. Neither are productive.

...there is some logic in your claims, Variza.

Right. So let's move on.

What about your hostage? The one with Cerberus that you took with you from Illium?

Oh her? Funny story, she was actually the mole I managed to convert from Cerberus on the inside. Miranda Lawson. Way back when Liara and I became the new Shadow Broker, we did some digging into her father, Henry Lawson, and found out his financial connections to a shell company operating on behalf of Cerberus.

Then proceeded to shut it down and send the authorities on Henry. The law was applied, and his reputation was destroyed the minute it got out that he had genetically modified his children to be “perfect” to him.

Add to that cocktail the humanity-first bigotry Cerberus trades in and things got pretty hot fast for the guy.

But that still doesn't fully explain why Miranda would be willing to help you.

“Is Oriana safe?” Miranda asked, her concern genuine despite being surrounded by a firing squad and restrained.

I made a quick X across my front. “Cross my heart, Miranda. I told you could trust me.” I said with a smile, making a small step towards her. If she wanted to she could attempt to strangle me with the restraints, but my trust was well placed. She stayed put. Liara passed me while holding a datapad. She cleared her throat.

“We still need to be sure about this. Why do you want to leave Cerberus?” Liara asked.

Miranda lowered her head, her expression slowly becoming contemplative and sullen, her long black hair covering her face.

“There was...once a time I believed in Cerberus.” Miranda said, her tone seeded with guilt.

“When humanity made first contact with the turians and we fought for our lives, only to have the Council, the asari and salarians, step in and call it off, father told me it was condescension. That they were patronizing us. That they felt bad about beating up on such a primitive race. That we will never be seen as equals no matter how much progress we made. Then, The Illusive Man showed up with his organization saying he would make them see our greatness. That we were better than them, and that we weren't to be crossed. It...made a lot of sense.
“Then, the Battle of the Citadel happened. Shepard and his team...and you. Fought Saren, and the Council race's fleets took down a Reaper. And I thought, Shepard was truly humanity's champion, that he was able to command those people, control them, make them serve him. He was a goddamned hero.
“And The Illusive Man agreed. We tried reaching out to him. Appealing to his military dedication, his reputation for getting the job done no matter the cost. His no nonsense attitude. Except he... said no. He told our representatives that we gave humanity a bad name, trying to step over others rather than elevate them with us. It was was like...”

“He became a completely different person.” I finished her sentence. Miranda looked up to me and nodded in approval. Her expression softening but still pensive.

“The Illusive Man sent me to him for one last attempt to talk to him. To give him an ultimatum. That humanity would never be seen as equal to the rest of the galaxy, and that him helping us would be just another mission to bring security.”

“Another means of control.” Liara mused.

“...and he said no. He told me that there was more than just another mission. That we already have done so much. That while it was thanks to humans that the Citadel was won, it wasn't because we were in control, it was because we lead by example. That by being a hero, we could inspire others to be selfless and brave....”

“A paragon of hope to show the way...” I muttered under my breath. My mind briefly flashing a symbol of blue wings and numbers going up.

Miranda smiled and looked away, cupping her hand as if to muffle a chuckle, “It all sounded so sentimental and corny at the time. So I had to tell him to his face that humanity would ascend without him...and that he should stay out of our way.

“And that's when something...broke in The Illusive Man. His scientists started collecting up Sovereign's remains, test subjects were collected,” her mouth twitched in disgust at phrasing, “and the experiments began. And my father...he kept pushing. That was all they could think about. Get more Reaper technology, reverse engineer it, and bring down the Council.

“But happened Variza. Your company, all the help you were hiring. The money you were burning through, the projects we were working on all either patented or confiscated. It made him furious. He yelled and raged so many times about how anything humans build is taken away like a child with a weapon. The way you were, to use his words, spending money like a spoiled brat to get whatever you wanted, disgusted him. Henry and him became even more passionate, and I started seeing things their way.
“Then there was that...well, mental breakdown you had on Omega. I was hired to keep tabs on you while Kai Leng and the others dogged Shepard.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Was every big name in the galaxy watching me that night?” I sighed.

Miranda gave me an amiable look. “What was it you said? The joke's on them, I only care about stopping the Reapers?”

I felt myself shiver slightly with this newfound respect Miranda showed me. “You figured out it was an act. That I was doing all of this to save us all.”

“It was like a switch went off.” Miranda replied. “How could someone I was told for years had no respect for lesser alien beings be fighting so hard and working with so many people, so many diverse backgrounds, be working that hard to fight something that daunting?
“It put our priorities into perspective. The Illusive Man wanted to be on top before everything came crumbling down, you and Shepard...were trying to keep the whole thing together. So... I started giving The Illusive Man false information, burying your trail, and tried observing. Then I got your encoded messages after I lost you on Illium.”

“Well in your defense, Jack's a pretty suicidal pilot.” I interjected. That got a laugh from the armed guards and a smile from Liara, albeit a bitter one.

“And it was also the moment I could tell it wasn't totally an act,” Miranda continued, “you wanted to help me, and you told me what Henry was planning to do to the human refugees at his compound. How they were going to continue their experiments. And how he and Illusive Man could see how unreliable I was and were precious sister...” She looked down. “And now I find out she's safe. On the Citadel. With the rest of Shepard's team. You didn't ask for anything in return, you just wanted to help.”

“It was the right thing to do.” I replied.

She stood up and held out her bound hands. “Which is why I will gladly help you stop Cerberus. And the Reapers. It's like Shepard said...we're in this together.”

The holding cell started to fade away like smoke, Miranda's genuine smile and Liara's approving smirk washing away. I was back to the nothing.

It seems your unintended actions yielded some ripe fruit?

I'm not sure if I would word it that poetically SAM but it did make things easier for me. For example, that whole Cerberus plot to hijack the Citadel and shut down the War Council....

A brief flash and I was in the Presidium with the Councilors, Shepard, the STG, and C-Sec. There was fifteen seconds of concentrated gunfire on select targets. Biotics thrown, grenades detonated, shocked citizens quickly escorted as the unaware Cerberus agents got their ambush reversed.

Nipped in the fucking bud.

It does seem quite sad doesn't it? The galaxy is in peril and Cerberus can only think of themselves first. It's almost like history repeating itself.

Moving on.

It just seems sad is what I'm saying.

On to the War Council. Honestly, now that it's coming back to me, I remember it going quite smoothly....

“I don't care if the krogan have started holding hands and singing songs of peace! Curing the Genophage is off the table of demands!” Councilor Udina slammed his fist in protest. His eyes darting around to the other members standing at the round table. The Salarian Dalatrass, the STG's Commander Kirrahe,Doctor Mordin Solus, the Turian Primarch accompanied by Garrus Vakarian, the asari councilor, Commander Shepard, and me.

“Then we will have to pull our support from the Crucible and ongoing military support, Councilor Udina.” Kirrahe spoke up. “Your transmissions made it clear that the Genophage cure was a completely satisfactory means of compensation for our cooperation.”

Udina's face twisted in confusion. “And I take it that means you are content with letting another krogan uprising happen when this is all over? Have we all forgotten our history?”

“With all due respect to the human councilor, despite the history that we have with the krogan, I have to concur with Commander Kirrahe.” The Primarch interjected. “Our fleets are holding blockades at key points across the mass relay network, but our ground forces are overwhelmed across the entire Attican Traverse. Besides, enemies and allies change all the time. In politics and in war. Something I hope you can see, Udina.”

“There have also been noticeable changes in krogan behavior. Societal shifts, religious and spiritual realignments, leaning towards introspection, deliberation,” Mordin pattered out before taking a sharp breath, “time has changed them.”

“Plus, the way I see it,” another familiar low, steady voice droned in from the sidelines, “we will need all the help we can get.” Urdnot Wrex had joined the War Council. “And I think wiping the slate clean for all of us would be the best reward.” He patted Mordin on the shoulder. He flashed Wrex a wiry smile. Almost like they had talked before the meeting was officially held.

“It appears you are outvoted Udina,” the asari councilor remarked.

Shepard and I exchanged looks and a fistbump.

From there, the meeting became a matter of logistics. The battle plan for getting the cure to Tuchanka, the best tactics to use against Reaper forces while the cure gets delivered to the populace, you know, the boring but important stuff.

After everything the Turians and Salarians did them, it seems unlikely the Krogan would just bury the hatchet. And their home planet is nothing but desert wasteland full of their natural predators, the Thresher Maws. Wouldn't it have just been easier to just write it off as lost?

Spoken like someone who doesn't think outside the box, SAM. As you mentioned, Thresher Maws are the things that eat and kill Krogan by the hundreds, withstanding artillery fire and the like. But the Krogan are also proud warriors who use them as means for warrior trial rituals, using special gongs to summon them. So I uhh...made a bunch of them and set up a network. They weren't exactly expensive, and there really wasn't much to control. Tuchanka is their home as well, so naturally they'd fight the Reapers.

But there was one last thing I had to set right. Jump handed me a LOKI mech for a reason, and I just remembered why....

“Doctor Solus wait!” I sprinted towards him before he entered his ship, Kirrahe and the Dalatrass departing to shuttles of their own. He turned to meet me, his face showing flickers of concern.

“Yes, what is it?”

“I have to ask...why are you helping them cure the Genophage?”

“I thought I made it clear at the meeting.” He turned around, continuing his approach to the shuttle, “You said it yourself. Not safe to be out in public. Need to return to safety.”

“I heard why the STG and Turians wanted it cured,” I ran to close the distance and clasped a hand on his shoulder, “ I didn't hear why you agreed to help.”

He tensed up in response to my contact. He stopped dead, his composure defensive. “I... ran the numbers. Saw the Lrogan for myself. They changed. It was logical.”

“I didn't ask for data, I asked what your feelings are about it Mordin.” I spoke as calmly as I could, despite everything screaming at me to move now. A Reaper agent could have had a sniper trained on me, or a saboteur with a bomb. But I had to know, and I had to hear it.

“I told you, I saw the data-”

“And what?”

Mordin whipped around and knocked my hand from my shoulder. His face scrunched up in an expression of rage.


And an instant later, his expression saddened. I almost thought I saw tears.

“... I made a mistake...”his tone was pensive.

“What was it you said before? About how the lies you tell yourself are the most dangerous? I told myself for years that dictating the future of an entire race was necessary for the greater good. I don't care if it changed them for the better... it wasn't for me to decide.”

I smiled and tossed the briefcase-sized mech in front of him. It slowly unfolded to full size.

“What...what is this?” He looked at the Mk. II LOKI in surprise.

“You were honest with me. So here's a present. Top of the line from the manufacturer. Complete with a haptic feedback system in the hands and fingers that can be remotely operated by the user. And I had Tali overclock its software so that its reception can cover at least a couple hundred kilometers. Great for combat scenarios or...if you can't get to some crucial command consoles in a pinch”

“Why...why give this to me?”

“I think you said it back at the meeting. Wipe the slate clean. A new beginning,” I held out a hand, “for all of us.”

Mordin looked to the mech, then to me. He took my hand.

Seems a bit of an odd thing to remember, Variza. Was it really enough to have Mordin confess his failings?

Honestly, I had to know his thoughts on the krogan had changed. Plus, I wasn't exactly going to throw him onto a desert world with giant mutant millipede monsters and Reapers and not give him a Plan B.

You are...citing something from your...weirdly accurate outsider knowledge?

The games... yeah. He died saving the Krogan, it was a scripted event, had to happen. I wanted to give him a better conclusion. Geez, it sounds really entitled when you say it out loud like that....


Wait a moment, didn't you say you had a copy of my long-term memory?

It's a part of the recovery process, have to be sure everything is connected. False Memory Syndrome could be problematic at this stage.

Right. But yeah...the rest of the war effort I remember being hazy. I remember key battles, losses, near escapes, but I also remember staying away from all the fighting.

That seems incompatible. How exactly does that work?

My senses began to re-assert themselves again, and the answer became clear. Me sitting in the Normandy's War Room, nursing a cup of coffee handed to me by Specialist Samantha Traynor. The 3D display of Tuchanka a mess of red dots, polygonal structures and green highlights...

Oh...of course.... Every time I wind up planetside for too long, the Reapers manage to pin down my location. I'm a key target with crucial info, plus also being the Shadow Broker puts a target on your back. But I can't exactly leave the War Effort to their own devices, so I advise from a commander position. Or a umm....assistant commander position? I'm terrible with military hierarchy so I just treat everyone above me until someone says otherwise.

But why do it from the Normandy? Wouldn't that make it vulnerable?

The Normandy's built in stealth capabilities. For some reason, the Reapers can't actively track it with their tools, which made it a perfect gopher hole. That and Joker's unparalleled flying capability. Of course, that means that I was never on the front line directly fighting anyone, but I was where I was needed....

Well that is a lie. There were some very quick evacuation missions we were a part of. Civilians, scientists, crying children, that sort of thing. We were in the neighborhood.

Seems a bit reckless

Hey, you ride with Paragon Shepard, you do things for the greater good with Paragon Shepard. Honestly, the hard part wasn't fighting off the Reapers' forces with my squad. I mean, it was kind of nice, getting out of the office again.

In order to kill things?

To save lives. Honestly, the hard part was...

“Variza, are you seriously fiddling with your Omni-Tool right now!?” Jack yelled over the sounds of explosions and screaming.

“Hey, if we're gonna do this, I wanna be sure it's to a decent music playlist.”


“What about situational awareness? That seems highly reckless.” Garrus commented via comms, his sniper rifle blasting out hot death at several Reaper-converted turians; Marauders we called them.

“It's a simple defend and extract and we're out from any Reaper flagships, I say live a little.” I kept flipping through my tracks. Why didn't I put together a playlist beforehand?

I heard Wrex roar in triumph as he ripped an abomination in half, his crazed laughter echoing as he used the halves to beat down several Collector rifleman that were pinning us down.

“See? Wrex gets it!” I gestured to his murderous rampage. “Okay screw it, hitting random.”

I was greeted by an upbeat piano riff. One I only vaguely recognized.

“Wait a minute, this isn't from my rock list.” I mused.

“Oh will you just go up top? We have a beeline to the survivors!” Shepard remarked.

I rolled my eyes and charged forward as a familiar country drawl started playing over my helmet's internal audio system. The gun fight a rote exercise in rapid shots from my SMG, quick acrobatics thanks to all my training, and liberal biotic use.

Then the chorus kicked in...

Working 9 to 5
What a way to make a living
Barely gettin' by
It's all taking
And no giving
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it!

“Huh, when you think about it, we do seem to do this a lot. Variza, are you sure this was on random?” Tali mused.

“Oh crap, was this broadcast to everyone?”

“Yes!!” Everyone shouted in unison

If I could have curled up into a ball of embarrassment right then I would have. But hey, we got the people safe and away from Reaper attack.

With no thanks to Dolly Parton of course.

Hey, if my priorities were really askew, I would have actually made a “Be Goddamned Heroes” playlist. But no, I didn't, so there.

Moving on... what happened then?

Well that's where things get sketchy. After a while, the battles began to blend together. Key objectives, people of interesting, stuff to blow up. It I was just playing the games again after a while. Give commands, let stuff play out, rinse and repeat. It...started to feel like a let down.

You feel like your actions made no difference?

Absolutely not. Mordin Solus survived. The asari became much more active much earlier in the conflict. Cerberus is practically a joke. That sort of stuff never happened before. And...there was the matter with the geth.

The Reaper worshipping robots that drove the quarians from their home planet?

It was a big misunderstanding. The very first geth was simply curious as to what it wanted the creators wanted. But once you make something that actively questions its programming, it can be terrifying for the the creator. So weapons were drawn and...well, what exactly is the most deeply-ingrained reflex and desire of any sentient species?


Exactly. they coordinated to defend themselves from the quarians and...well, the rest of history happened. Then when Saren showed up a schism happened within the geth collective. Half of them believed Saren's gospel, the other half didn't. And well, you know the rest. Battle of the Citadel, lot of dead geth, life moved on.

And Legion? What exactly was the point of him being among the Normandy's ranks

A means to show the galaxy that the geth ultimately wished to help. In fact, that started to go down on the quarian homeworld of Rannoch, far away from key war locations beyond the Perseus Veil. The geth were talking about helping to restore the quarian's immune systems, make habitations and set-up proper borders for peaceful living. Help them finally get out of those suits.

They were helping them get their home back.

Legion was also a sign that the geth were starting to gain a level of independence from the group collective. At least according to Shepard. He had more time with him than I did.

So yeah, you do the math. Two of the most advanced and prolific engineering and hacking races in the galaxy, far away from multiple theaters of war trying to bury a centuries long hatchet on the off-chance this will be the last time to be on their planet's own soil again. All while various mishaps and honest mistakes are being revealed The Reapers couldn't resist....

“This is Ambassador Tali Zorah vas Normandy to the Admiralty Board. The geth are not our enemy! The Reapers have hacked their platforms! Stand down!” Tali bellowed at the war table, a complete rush of red swarming several small dots of green.

“Miranda, get the stragglers to the evac point, the eezo lances are on the way to shut down Reaper forces and you will not survive the impact.” I barked into my comms.

“We're moving as fast as we can,” Miranda panted, “we have wounded and Legion is still trying to break Reaper control, his body is still frozen.”

“Leave his body. It's just an operating platform for him, he can find another!”


I heard Tali hail the Flotilla Fleet again. “You thickheaded boschtet listen to me! We are this close to having our home back! Focus on the real enemy right in front of us!”

The Board responded. “We are facing the real enemy. We can't have the Geth help the Reapers destroy our home a second time. We are continuing our assault.”

Tali punched the holotable in anger, and put her head in her hands, sounded like the start of a panic attack.

“Admiralty Board, this is Variza T'Som, Alliance Military. I must reiterate Tali Zorah's request. Stand down now, the geth are trying to help you, and you're only making this situation worse.”

“Miss T'Som, you have no idea what these things have taken from us! The generations of suffering! If we stand down now, we will lose everything we have ever fought for! We cannot trust the geth.”
“Admiral, it is because your people didn't take a few crucial moments to think that all of this has happened in the first place. And if you can't trust the geth, then at least trust me. Trust Shepard.”

“Keelah... Legion did it!” Tali exclaimed. A swath of green slowly overtaking the sea of red on the map.

“Look with your own eyes right now. If the geth truly wanted to end all of this now in violence, they could have. But they aren't. They're offering a hand. the better person and take it.”

“All ships....stand down. All units, form on the geth and help them evacuate.”

Joker chimed in. “Payload ready, getting ready to deliver in tee minus two minutes.”

“Get out of there Shepard!” I yelled.

Everything from there basically happened all at once. Lances shot down, Reaper forces devastated, the geographic foundation rocked and shifted enough to crippled the Reapers that were planetside, and gave the Flotilla enough time for some tactical bombing runs aided by targeting info by the geth. Rannoch was safe. The hatchet was finally buried.

All of that yelling and work for something so simple...

Yeah... but it happened. One of our last big operations before...

Before what?

Trying to remember... we were still diverting resources to the Crucible. Keeping it as far away from censors, key planets and locations as much as possible. Keeping the ace thoroughly tucked up our sleeve so to speak. All of the alliances, all the deals being made kept meaning more people, expertise, and power being pumped into it. But by my admission, I advised Admiral Hackett and the Council to keep it within relative distance of the Citadel. Apparently they were designed to work with one another, a Catalyst of some sort. Heh, originally that information was revealed through a Prothean VI captured by Cerberus. Yet another bullet dodged I guess.

But it kept making me feel uneasy. Like there was some detail I was missing. Something I might have overlooked. That Cerberus had something waiting in the wings. But Shepard and the others kept telling me to put it out of my mind. Focus on the Reapers, focus on the Crucible. Eventually, they had to put their foot down....

“Variza, as your superior officer, I am ordering you to take shore leave on the Citadel.” Shepard asserted. “You're clearly stressed, hell we all are, and we can't have you like this.”

“I am not stressed dammit!” I yelled.

“Variza, you pulled a gun on me after I walked out of the bathroom.” Tali responded, “I think Shepard has a point.”

“And you haven't exactly been sleeping all that well.” SAM interjected. “REM cycles keep getting interrupted and night terrors have been happening more often.”

“It's war, SAM. Like, The War. Y'know, The War that will end us all if it isn't won!?” I splurted out.

“Still doesn't forgive the whole gun situation. I mean I was more accepting of Legion after a while and he's only been on the crew for six months.” Tali followed up.

“Sorry Variza but I'm gonna have to go with the group here.” Garrus spoke up, leaning against a wall in the corner. “Seen it multiple times when I served in the Turian Navy. Too obsessed with the job they forget crucial self-care.”

I clenched my teeth and balled up my fists.

“Fine.” I growled out. “We'll go to the Citadel, sing karoake, get completely smashed, and get into some dopey antics! That sounds amazing!” I honestly couldn't tell if I was being sarcastic or not through all the anger.

“Perfect!” Tali exclaimed. “Now excuse me Garrus, but I think you and I are due for screening at the Citadel. And dinner afterwards.” her tone was undeniably playful and I swear I saw a skip in her step as she went to Garrus' side.

“I thought you and I agreed that this wasn't a relationship.” I heard him mutter quietly through his artificial jaw.

Tali scoffed. “Who said anything about a relationship. I'm just using you for your body, Vakarian.” I saw her boldly wrap her arm around his narrow waist and pull him close.

Garrus suppressed a chuckle, “Oh you are so mean...and I'm okay with that.”

Still amazed how that came out of nowhere. Oh well, I'm not the center of the universe.

Anyway, they practically dragged me kicking and screaming into the Citadel's club scene. Shepard kept insisting that there were plenty of military protections there as well as C-Sec, that everything was going to be fine. Then Jack said something about wanting to move me up from lightweight and so the drinks started pouring in. Things went by in a haze, a large smear of neon lights, ridiculous antics and adventures – I think at one point Grunt and I hijacked a taxi and lit it on fire – and lots of intimate friendly discussions on life. Hell, I think I got caught up in some quasi-philosophical talk about the perception of self with Shepard, Traynor, and Liara while Mordin quietly sang Amazing Grace during karoake. Props to the guy, his usual genre is patter songs.

Then the lucidity hit. The booze left me, in this case violently in a bathroom for the very first time in my entire existence, I do not recommend it, and the hazy surroundings finally came into focus. I was on the side of a bed in some hotel, Traynor laying next to me topless. I should know, I was wearing her shirt and nothing else. I didn't exactly want to linger on how that happened or what exactly went down, this never happened to me before so the etiquette escaped me.

Then the hangover hit me in waves like a tropical storm. I stumbled around and jumped into my jeans, leaning on the walls to keep my balance as I made my way to the door. It opened up to a sort of lounge area, some sort of VIP Suite that Shepard probably rented out for a party. There was a fireplace in the middle. And Shepard was sitting next to it, his eyes flickered to me with a smile.

“Have fun?” He smirked.

“Shepard please tell me you have a hangover cure in your hands right now” I groaned as I stumbled towards the stable foundation of the couch.

He held up a glass of some bronze-looking liquid. Without hesitation I took the glass and began several cautious sips. Tasted a bit like chicken soup, but chalky.

“Asari recipe. Thought it might agree with you.” he replied. “Once you finish that I also have some coffee since I doubt you'll be sleeping the rest of the night.” he gestured to a steaming mug on the table.

“Yeah...not gonna look forward to how awkward things might be with Samantha now. I mean, I don't remember anything,” my eyes darted back to the room, “then again, she might not either.”

Shepard chuckled. It got a smile out of me. And whatever was in that drink started to work as my headache began to recede and my balance reasserted itself.

The evening went by in relative silence. A few personal questions were exchanged. Where I really grew up, my background, just small proper chitchat with all pretense thoroughly gone.

Then, the topic slowly turned to the Reapers.

“Do you know what they really are?” Shepard inquired. After a long pause, I nodded.

“There was an expansion that explained their origin but...I never really played it. How...everything ends basically soured things for me.”
“You...never really talked about the ending before. What exactly happens? Other dying.” Shepard glanced briefly to the fire. I chose my next words very carefully.

“Reapers capture the Citadel and move it towards Earth, funneling the rest of our forces to it in a trap. We get you on to the Citadel, the Crucible activates're given a choice on how to use it. Destroy the Reapers, but end up destroying the geth. Destroy your body and have your consciousness override the Reapers, letting you control them. synthesize organic and synthetic life into a new unique being, causing the Reapers to understand empathy or something like that, making them stop.
“Either way, it ends with you dying...and the entire Mass Relay network being destroyed to generate the power needed to make whatever choice happen.”

“So what you're saying is we can't force them to talk.”

I shrug and finish off the coffee. “They've done this for millennia, why would they stop now?” I catch a glimpse of the fire as well. For a second it looked like the fire had spiked but then settled down.

“Humor me then with this then...what if they're right?”

“Excuse me?”

“What if what they're doing is a mercy for the galaxy? Civilizations rise, become too powerful, start doing untold harm to the universe, and for their own good they are cut down. For the good of all that come later.”

I thought I saw something flicker under Shepard's eyes, but couldn't fully place it.
“I would say that is highly pretentious and antithetical to what I think civilization is capable of. We have the capacity to create and make these things, yes, but we also know how to shoulder the responsibility of what comes with that craft. Human history is full of situations like this with war and nuclear disarmament.”

There was another great pause.

“And what if they created something that others knew would condemn them to annihilation. Wouldn't it be better to stop them before things became worse.” His tone became more serious.

I started grasping my throat. I swear I thought I felt something grip it like the throes of sleep paralysis.

“Example?” I managed to gasp out.

“The mass effect fields. The amount of dark energy that they generate doesn't just dispel once they are used. They continue on in space, and after centuries of use, could develop into destructive phenomena. Rips in space time that could cause irreparable damage to our physical universe.”

Then Shepard's eyes glowed a sinister red, and his voice became one from my nightmares.

“So tell me Miss T' exactly were you planning on stopping that?”

My body became frozen, whether by fear or by Harbinger's will I couldn't tell. My eyes darted around the room as it slowly lost definition, like a decaying oil painting. But the visage of the man I once thought was my friend remained.

“I must admit you fought harder than I thought. But extracting your secrets was only a matter of time.”

My memories came up again in flashes. Me back in the bed with Traynor, stumbling into the main room for a glass of water. Then someone grabbing me from behind, the smell of chloroform.

“” I choked out. A moment later it hit me, I wasn't actually speaking to SAM...he was fishing through my head. And I just gave him all of our secrets!

“As you said, Cerberus became quite desperate with what they could use against us... so I allowed them to utilize our power. In exchange for their..obedience.” Shepard's facsimile began to dissolve, the piercing red glow turning into a single solitary red lens growing in size.


“No...You can't do this...” I had to think. SAM had to still be connected to me somehow. Please recognize my fight or flight response. Get me out of this coma, please.


“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” I finally bellowed out, and like a war cry I felt the grips on me loosen.

“Humanity... has its problems. Dear me do I know that, but the last thing you ever want to tell them is what they can or can't accomplish. We were told not to build tall towers for fear of Gods punishing us, so we built entire cities with towers that could break the heavens. We learned how to hold off death, defy gravity, and even how to travel faster than light through the stars!”

I started to feel my body. It was a mile away, fighting and fidgeting, like the final seconds of a lucid dream coming to an end.

“So to your utter drivel saying we can't handle what comes next. I say bring it on! To your warriors, I say you're gonna need more than that!”

I felt my hand clench up into a fist. I was on a table of some kind. Cold, but firm.

“And to this dark energy crisis that you say will doom us all... I say this. WE WILL FIND ANOTHER WAY!”

Harbinger remained silent for a moment before uttering one last phrase.


I snapped awake, and on reflex, I released my hand, and with it a shockwave of biotic power. The blinding light above me slowly adjusted to my vision as I spun off the table and on to solid ground. It felt cold and rough, like snake skin. The shockwave knocked several of my operators to the ground, Collectors, and unfortunately none of them had weapons. I reached for my pistol... only to be greeted by bare flesh. It just dawned on me that I was naked. And where I was. The dimly lit cavernous corridors of a Collector ship.

A blaring klaxon rang all around me. And with it, a horrific buzzing. I looked around and saw them, Seeker Swarms, pouring into the cracks.

“SAM can you hear me? I need some serious body hacking right now if I'm going to get through this!”

Miss T'Som, you're speaking again... that was admittedly clever of Harbinger.

“No time! We got Seeker Swarms! Do we have Mordin's countermeasure on file?”

That would require armor, which you don't have.

“Shit!” I broke off in a dead sprint towards where the swarms were less prevalent.

Think think think! What about my Warehouse....

I felt something in my teeth. With some effort I spat out my key and palmed it.

Just in time to see a door that was locked in front of me. Perfect.

I lunged forward and slid the key into the door, it yielded and opened into my Warehouse in a flash of blinding light.

And I was surrounded by a war stockpile any paranoid conspiracy theorist would be proud of.

I slapped on some armor, readied an SOS, and got ready for war.

“SAM...crank up my adrenaline, get some combat routines uploaded into me...and you know what... crank the Andrew W.K.”

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