Thank God For the Via, and Ghost Parts 3, 4, and 5

August 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

Sunday, when you have nothing the next day, is the best day of the week.

I came back from Sarnia this morning on Via, and I have to say it is the best way to travel. I, being the 6’2″ adonis that I am, am chronically low on knee space inside buses and cars, but on the train? It’s like heaven. Even with the twerp in front of me putting his seat back all the way I can ride it in comfort.

Also, I can write! So, for your Sunday pleasure, here is the end of Ghost. I’ll find a better name for it, but right now Mass Effect: Ghost isn’t terrible. Why? Well, you’ll see.

But this also means that I’ll have another contest soon. I think two or three weeks of Crown will serve me well, but I’m already excited about the next project. I’ll say that I went a little off the reservation as far as exactly what Nova asked me to do. He wanted a Renegade story where the Renegade wasn’t stupid. This is sort of it, but it morphed into a reflection on how damn hard it would be to actually be Shephard. So…you win some, you lose some. I just hope you all liked it, and I’ll post it over on the downloads soon.

Cheers! Oh, and song…she isn’t on the Escapist anymore, but I love her all the same.

I need to link to it, but it’s awesome:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/rebecca-mayes-muses/1505-Mass-Effect-2

STORY TIME:

III.

Shephard’s cabin was quiet and dark. He preferred it quiet and lit, but EDI, the ship’s Virtual Intelligence, had dimmed the lights in an attempt to get him to go to bed. She had tried various methods in the past to try and get Shephard to adopt a more regular circadian cycle. John, in his mindless defiance of the machine intelligence, was having none of it. There was plenty of time to sleep when he was dead, and considering he’d already been dead once, that had earned him a reprieve from the needs of mortals as far as he was concerned.

He knocked back another glass of vodka. One of the unexpected bonuses of having most of his body replaced by nanomachines was that his organs were significantly more efficient. His liver processed toxins at an alarming rate, so much so that drinking the alcohol was pretty much a study in insignificance. But John liked that. He remembered the first days of his mission, back when he was made the first human Spectre. He still remembered what it felt like: excitement, hope, ambition. Their absence made the memories that much more potent.

The Reapers took that all away from him. He slugged another shot, felt the burn and ignored the brief discomfort. He idly signed off on a duty report from Engineering, paying it no mind. He didn’t care: the ship ran and it ran well. He had made sure of that.

The Reapers. He rolled that word around in his head, feeling his augmented brain respond to the influx of emotions and electrical signals. In a way, he appreciated the presence of the Reapers. He had always wanted to be a hero, to be a person of galactic significance, and thanks to them, he was.

Every hero, after all, needs a monster.

EDI flashed, trying to get his attention. He ignored her, and continued skimming over reports.

They were mechanical monsters, trying to eradicate all life in the galaxy. Why, Shephard wasn’t sure. They had done it before in the distant past and now, like clockwork, they wanted to do it again. It was their bad luck that John Shephard just happened to enjoy living in the galaxy and had no interest in seeing it burn.

So the Reapers decided to make living here a hell.

He had lost Kaidan Alenko, a real friend, who had to stay behind to stop the mad Spectre Saren. He didn’t make it. He had lost the crew of the old Normandy when it was burned by the Collectors. They didn’t make it. He had lost his position in the Citadel, when they declared him no better than a renegade. He had lost the trust of his old friends, when the only people who took him seriously was the Human-supremacist terrorist group, Cerebus.

He had lost Ashley Williams. She made it. More and more, Shephard wondered if he would.

EDI flashed again, and this time activated her vocal circuitry.

“Commander Shephard, i-”

Shephard cut her off with a wave of his hand. He had no love for machine intelligence. Tali, bless her for staying with him, and her people had lost their homeworld when their intelligent machines, the Geth, had turned on their masters. And here was EDI, a hop skip and a jump away from opening the bay doors and blowing them all to hell. Not while I’m Captain, thought Shephard, not again while I’m alive.

After a second, he signed the sheet and turned towards the holographic image that was the ship’s avatar. It was a simple sphere on a stem made of dots of light, and flashes indicated where “her” mouth should be.

“What is it?” Asked Shephard.

“Commander, Grunt received a message and since has been more and more aggravated.” EDI replied, her voice cool and clinical.

Ah, thought Shephard, Grunt. The only Krogan on the team was chronically unstable, but Shephard supposed it came with being a genetic clone that had been developed to be the perfect Krogan soldier. Or, because he had been grown in a vat. One of the two. “I see. Why did you bother me with this?” Shephard asked. “I already ordered you to report any psychological changes to Yeoman Chambers.”

“Of course, Commander, and I have appended a message to her morning duty roll, but as it is 3:37 AM Earth Standard Time…”

He cut her off again. “Then it can wait until morning.” Shephard waved her away.

The holograph flickered uncertainly for a moment, and then focused. “Of course, Commander. Logging off.” It winked away.

Shephard finished the stack of papers he was working on and threw them across his desk. Fatigue hit him like a high-gravity planet when he was done. It was always that way, nowadays. He could ignore it and function at 100% for days at a time, if he really needed to. And then he would hit a solid wall of fatigue and become useless.

He lay back on the couch and closed his eyes. The privileges of rank afforded him a full cabin, while the rest of the crew had to be content with bunks where they could get them. His fish tank bubbled quietly in the background. A familiar urge filled him, despite the fatigue, and he wondered if Yeoman Chambers would mind being woken up, even if it was almost 4AM.

The door to his cabin opened with a whoosh of compressed air, and Shephard was on the ground before it finished. The response had been completely automatic and bypassed his consciousness. The door opening meant someone had forced the lock and arrived without warning. That could only mean danger, and danger meant hitting the ground ASAP.

A shotgun barked, impossibly loud in the small cabin, and the couch exploded. Synthleather and padding flew across the room as hormones and electrical signals flooded Shephard’s body. He turned his dive into a roll and activated his shield generator. It was a small, non-combat option that was only good for blocking a bullet or two. A full shotgun blast would overload it with enough force left over to overload him as well.

Grunt stood in the door, a smoking shotgun in his hands. Shephard’s brain also took this in automatically, pushing the questions to the back of his head even as they were raised. Why was he doing this? Was he really a traitor? Was he always a traitor? These questions were, for now, irrelevant. There was a half-ton of armed Krogan that wanted Shephard dead. Worry about that first.

Shephard grimaced and dove as Grunt shot again. That brought him closer to the door, but that also brought him closer to Grunt. Shephard might have been one of the meanest biotics this side of the Terminus system, but he was still unarmed and unarmoured, while Grunt held a shotgun, was in full armour, and also was a Krogan. Being a half-ton of muscle genetically engineered to be the perfect warrior tended to weigh the odds. Shephard dove again and his shield flashed blue as a stray pellet glanced off it. He saw Grunt’s face, but there was nothing in it but the Krogan battle-rage. His lips were turned up in a reptilian snarl and his eyes were narrowed and flush with violence. So, it was Grunt on a good day.

This was an impossible fight and they both knew it. But Shephard wasn’t planning on fighting fair.

EDI was screaming over the ship’s alert and light blared into the cabin. Shephard saw his chance.

“Lights off!” He screamed and shut his eyes as Grunt levelled the gun.

The room was plunged into darkness a second before Grunt fired. The Krogan evolved to be apex predators on a planet that prided itself on the meanness of its predators, and one of the areas that Krogans dominated was in sight. Their eyes could pick out the feathers on a bird from a mile away. They also adjusted very quickly to changing light conditions, so the moment it went dark, Grunt’s eyes would have begun to cope. The blast from the shotgun would have hurt his eyes, but not completely

The blinding flash as Shephard’s shield overloaded would have finished the job.

The room exploded in a blue light as John dove forward, horribly exposed. Grunt, well, grunted as his eyes filled with light while Shephard was prepared and avoided the worst of it. He knew he was bleeding from somewhere, but there was no time for that. No time to sleep, certainly no time to bleed.

His fist crackled with purple energy as his biotic implants flared into life. Grunt was built like a garbage truck strapped to a tank, but Shephard wasn’t aiming to kill. He slammed his fist directly into Grunt’s chest as he staggered back from the light. Grunt took the hit well, but wasn’t ready and took a step backward into the elevator.

Shephard followed through with a kick to Grunt’s knee. Krogan might be tough and their bones might as well be carbon nano-tubes, but they had to bear a lot of weight over a long period of time. Shephard’s hit would have normally bounced right off. His biotic-enhanced blow did not, and there was a snap as Grunt’s knee exploded. He went down on his other knee with a crash.

Even that wouldn’t have stopped a Krogan in the middle of a battle-rage, so Shephard decided to make it personal. He grabbed the Krogan’s right arm and spun. With a snap, the arm broke and dislocated itself, freeing the shotgun. Grunt, to his credit, only let out a sharp breath as his bones broke, well able to swallow his pain. But Shephard didn’t need Grunt to feel pain; he needed him to be on his knees in the elevator.

Grunt tried to rise and Shephard admired the Krogan’s durability. Likely, his bones were already knitting together again, and the arm that flopped uselessly at his side would soon be mended. That was unacceptable. With a snap, Shephard activated his stasis module. A purple field burst from the implant in Shephard’s wrist and encompassed the Krogan like a thick gas. The incredibly high gravity field created by the mass effect field pinned the Krogan in place, and put more stress on his body, hopefully preventing the legendary Krogan regeneration from taking effect.

Hopefully.

While Grunt lay there enveloped in stasis, Shephard stepped inside the elevator and shut the door. He pressed the button for the CIC and, suddenly weary again, leaned against the wall. He looked down to survey the damage and saw three holes in his legs. The bleeding was already slowing, thanks again to the nanomachines, but one of the holes was big enough for him to put his finger through. Pain tore at the edges of his biotic-induced haze, but he ignored it. Pain was temporary, and these holes were equally temporary. They were just some more scars for the collection.

The door opened, revealing a crowd of armoured security officers. They huddled behind hand-held shields facing the elevator. Garrus and Mordin, wide-eyed from being suddenly woken, levelled guns at the elevator and clearly breathed out in relief when Shephard walked out first. Yeoman Kelley Chambers, hanging at the back with a medical kit clutched to her chest, took a step forward when she saw the blood on Shephard’s leg, but Garrus’ hand held her back.

Shephard nodded to the assembled guns, waved his hand, and snapped his fingers. Grunt rose up, the gravity on his bonds suddenly reversed. He floated through the air like it was thick water, his arms and legs tightly bound at his sides, until Shephard snapped. The field suddenly released and the Krogan fell to the deck as gravity reasserted itself.

With a grinding crunch, Grunt’s armour broke the deck where he fell. His head rebounded off the back of his chest plate, and Shephard saw his eyes go out of focus. The security officers took a step back, but Shephard ignored them. This was as much for his benefit as it was for Grunt’s and for the crew’s, but he was the only one who could work here. Krogan respected strength, and Shephard needed to be strong. Very well, he thought, if I must.

He grabbed Grunt by the collar and slammed his head back down. He punched the Krogan’s slightly-more-delicate orbital bone, shattering it and letting one eye roll wildly in his head. Standing, he slammed his heel down, cracking the clavicle and ruining the Krogan’s other arm. However, he knew that even so, he would only have a moment or two before Grunt would be back on his feet, if not totally healed, than at least enough to crush Shephard into paste.

Shephard grabbed a pistol from the nearest officer and jabbed it into Grunt’s good eye.

“You’re weak, Grunt.”

Grunt snorted in surprise. It wasn’t what he was expecting.

“You’re weak because you’re stupid. It doesn’t matter that you’re bigger and stronger than me, because you’re so fucking stupid. You tried to kill me. Me!” Shephard shouted and jabbed the barrel deeper into the Krogan’s eye. It depressed the eyeball, but it still rolled around to focus on Shephard. Good. He needs to see this.

“Saren tried to kill me, and he’s dead. The Chief of Clan Weyrloc tried to kill me and he’s dead. The Reapers did it and they’re fucking next. But you? You could have done it easily. You could have plugged me in the back in the middle of a firefight. You could have dropped a grenade too close to my feet. Hell, even called my name at the wrong time. But instead you thought you were worth shit, so you decided to sneak into my room and fucking shoot me in the face. Better than you have tried it and they’re dead. You’re supposed to be the best, Grunt. The best the Krogan have ever been, but you’re so fucking stupid I’m surprised you know how to breathe.” He was silent for a moment, and threw away the gun.

“Who?” He asked.

Grunt didn’t answer for a second. He just lay there, wheezing while his bones knit themselves back together. As the adrenalin faded in Shephard’s system, his leg began to burn steadily. He ignored it. Weakness is like catnip to a Krogan.

“Chieftan.” Grunt managed, heavily.

Shephard’s stomach fell out of him. Wrex was Grunt’s chieftan, since he had done that stupid rite-of-passage. Wrex did this. Wrex, who had been one of his closest companions after Ashley. Wrex, who had been there with Shephard every step of the way. Wrex, who had stayed behind on Tuchanka to try and rebuild the Krogan people, who had tried to change his people for the better.

Wrex, who Shephard had betrayed. Wrex, who had convinced a member of John’s team to kill him.

The scent of lilacs filled the air.

“Grunt,” Shephard whispered, his voice low and deadly, “we are returning to Tuchanka, where I am going to meet with Wrex. You are going to remain on my team, because you are one of the best and I need the best. You are the best, because you’re not stupid anymore, and you know that trying to kill me is useless because I can’t be killed. I am death, Grunt. I am death directed at the Reapers, and this means that anything in my way that tries to stop me dies. Do not try and stop me.”

Grunt nodded as his eye popped back into place.

Shephard turned to face his crew. “Mordin, attend me in the medical bay. Everyone else, back to your bunk. Plot a course for Tuchanka.”

Kelley Chambers piped up. “But sir, we need to rendezvous with our agent on Haestrom.

Shephard looked at her with eyes darker than the deepness of space. When they locked onto hers, she knew the two of them were alone in the universe. And it scared her.

“Now, Yeoman.”

“O-of course, Commander.” She swallowed.

When the rest of the people were out of sight, Shephard collapsed on the sick bed. Mordin prepared an injection while Shephard convulsed in pain and battled his fatigue. His body, lean and hard and scarred, trembled as his neglected impulses surfaced in his brain.

Mordin pulled up Shephard’s sleeve and pushed the needle in. John’s hand clamped on Mordin’s shoulder, painfully digging into the doctor.

“D…don’t w-w-want to dream…doctor. I’m t-tired of dreaming. T-t-oo painfu…l.”

Mordin finished the injection and pulled out his tools. “Sleep, Commander.” There was a touch of tenderness in Mordin’s voice as Shephard drifted away.

He knew what awaited them on Tuchanka.

IV.

The throne room, if you could call it that, was built in the rubble of a destroyed habitat building. It wasn’t pretty, but Shephard reasoned that it probably wasn’t meant to be. A single chair sat atop a heaped pile of rubble, possibly left there by the bomb that ruined this building, and had been ignored by the Krogan for years until he chose it as his own. Armed Krogan made their way through the building, ambassadors and warriors from other clans, while civilians did their business and lived their lives. The proximity to the only spaceport on Tuchanka stimulated what little economy there was, and a decent flood of people made their way through the ruined building every day. The Krogan were not masters of construction, and in way, the ruined throne aptly described the Krogan’s situation.

Looking down from the chair was the biggest Krogan Shephard knew. His face was patterned red and yellow, and he wore the same old burgundy armour that had seen him through countless firefights. It was his father’s armour, taken from his still-warm corpse a few minutes after killing Wrex had killed him.

“Wrex.”

“Shephard.”

That was the extent of the greeting. Shephard stood alone at the foot of the throne in his armour, while Wrex sat comfortably on his seat. There was no need to pretty it up. They both smelled blood and wondered who’s it would be. Shephard knew that he wouldn’t stand much of a chance against Wrex. He might have been able to fool Grunt with a party trick or two, but Wrex had been killing longer than Shephard had been alive and certainly wasn’t a fool. Worse, he had fought with Shephard for a time, and he knew every trick that Shephard knew. If it came to blows, Shephard’s biotics would burn themselves out of his brain before they would shift Wrex.

Shephard, therefore planned it so it wouldn’t come to blows.

They regarded each other for a while, but they knew each other well enough to see through the false silence. Shephard broke it first.

“You know you could have waited.”

“Waited? And what would that have gotten me?” Wrex asked, amusement in his voice.

“Whatever you wanted. I’m a human, Wrex. I’ve got a hundred years at the most left in these bones. Less, if you count the time that I’d be fit enough to stop you. If you had waited then I wouldn’t have been able to hold you back. Then you wouldn’t have needed to tell Grunt to kill me, and I wouldn’t be here.”

“If I had waited,” Wrex said, carefully enunciating his words, “then the Krogan might very well have burned themselves out of existence. Fifty years might not seem like a long time to you humans, but you have never been in decline. I wonder if your race even remembers what it is like to be faced with actual extinction.” He laced his fingers together underneath his chin. “To face the actual end of your people…it’s liberating, Shephard. You know exactly what must be done to protect them.”

“So that’s why you sent Grunt to kill me?”

“Grunt? No, he never would have stood a chance against you.” Wrex scoffed. “I told him what you did and ordered him to recover what he could of the cure data as soon as possible. It seems that he decided eliminating you was the best way to do that. Brave, he is. Stupid, but brave.”

“I didn’t give you the cure for a reason, Wrex.”

“I know, Shephard.” Wrex’s voice was quiet, subdued. “I know why you didn’t, and I might even agree with you. We are a pack of bloodthirsty savages that don’t know any better. We never have.”

Wrex paused. “Until now. I can lead my people out of the hell that we’ve been in. I can show them a new way. I have.”

Shephard took his turn to scoff. “Who are you to think you’re good enough to lead the Krogan?”

“Who are you to think you’re god, and decide our fate?” Wrex stood, angry. “The Turians and Salarians earned our ire because they played dice with our future, but that is in the past. It did not change who we were. Throughout our history our problem has never been the genophage, but that we are Krogan. Being unable to breed is secondary to us constantly killing each other every chance we get! For thousands of years we did not better…yet here I am, awake, aware, and changing that.” He thrust an accusatory finger at Shephard. “And there you stand, eager to decide for us. Eager to play god where even the Turians did not. I thought you different, Shephard.”

Shephard stepped forward, anger rising in him. “Not once did I lead you on, Wrex. Not once did I say I was against the genophage. Not once did I ever say that I would help the Krogan become a threat to the galaxy again. You think I’m a god who’s done you wrong, but I never would help you cure the genophage. Never.”

So you would kill us all, if you thought us a threat?” Wrex asked.

“In a heartbeat.”

Wrex put his face very close to Shephard’s. “So then you are a threat to us, Shephard. And where does that leave us? Oh, I know exactly where.”

Shephard didn’t blink as teeth longer than his fingers gnashed in front of him. “Wait. I will defeat the Reapers, save the galaxy, and then I’ll come back for you. We’ll finish this then.” Shephard turned and walked away, leaving the throne behind him.

Wrex hooted with laughter. “The great John Shephard…so determined to save the galaxy that he won’t even-”

Wrex was cut off as Garrus’ rifle coughed and whined. The bullet tore through Wrex’s right eye and burst out the back of his head. The smile froze on his face as he toppled forward and slid down the rubble pile. Screams and shouts sounded from the gallery, but suddenly Grunt was there, waving his shotgun and quieting the crowd.

Shephard leapt down and leaned very closely to Wrex, the Krogan’s laboured breathing heavy in his ear. Mordin had assured him that this shot wouldn’t immediately kill a Krogan, and he might even recover naturally, but he would be in not shape to fight.

That was all to the good, as far as Shephard was concerned.

“Wrex, I know you would have taken me to town in a stand-up fight, all my bluster to the contrary. And I couldn’t afford that you might not wait until you decided to take another crack at me. I’m needed, Wrex. The galaxy depends on me. On me.” Shephard whispered to his injured partner. Companion. Friend.

“I didn’t want it to be this big. I didn’t want it to do this to us, to each other. But it has, and there’s no way I can turn the clock back. Since the Reapers came, my life is…too important to be my own, too important to be thrown away. A part of me wanted you to kill me, just so I could stop dreaming about everything I love dying around me. Just so I didn’t have to go through all this every damn night. That’s why I’m doing this, Wrex. As much as it is to cover my back, it’s because I couldn’t stand to see you go through what I did. The Reapers have destroyed everything I have but Earth. Everything. I couldn’t let you see me destroy everything you built.”

Wrex’s remaining eye stared at him, even as it went glassy. His breathing slowed but didn’t yet stop.

Shephard drew his pistol. “I’m not sorry that I’m doing this, Wrex, but I’m sorry that it came to this. Good hunting, friend.”

The pistol barked.

Mordin had assured him it would be fatal.

V.

The shuttle rocked as it exited Tuchanka’s greasy atmosphere. The mood in the vehicle was heavy. Garrus tried to make idle banter, but it weighed on him. He had agreed with Shephard, but it still weighed heavily on him to have to kill an old friend. Grunt was quiet. He had been quiet. If he would remain quiet, Shephard would be happy.

Tali had held her tongue all the way into orbit before she could hold it no longer.

“So I suppose we’re all expendable to you, Shephard. Even friends and friendships can be sacrificed to stop the Reapers?”

Shephard had put on his helmet. It was too hard to look at them without the protective screen between them and him, but he knew he had to answer. They…deserved an answer. He turned his masked face to Tali, as dead and cold as his eyes were behind the screen.

Everything will be sacrificed to stop the Reapers.” Shephard answered, coldly and evenly.

Garrus and Mordin nodded. Tali threw up her hands in disgust, and Grunt may as well have been made of stone.

Shephard turned away and watched the stars fly by. In his hand, he held a tooth he had pried from Wrex’s dead mouth. It would go into a secret box that no-one knew of, where it would be placed beside Kaiden’s dogtags and Ashley’s letters. Beside the photo of the first Normandy crew and Private Jenkins.

Beside the picture of Shephard as a smiling young man. All in the box with everything he had lost.

The Reapers had much to answer for.

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