Don't forget to look below at the 'box art' I made for this story, too! :)
To get this out of the way, "Mass Effect" and its characters are owned by EA and BioWare, it's for the entertainment of the fans...so there!
"MASS EFFECT 3 EPILOG: CODA" by Charles Spencer
THE REAPER WAR was the single greatest conflict in the history of the galaxy.
The war was brief, lasting barely a year, but devastating...entire civilizations were destroyed, processed, and rendered extinct by the massive synthetic lifeforms known as Reapers. These monsters sought to enforce a cycle of extinction ordained by their creator to cull and harvest to oblivion advanced organic life every 50,000 years. Worlds burned as billions of lives were lost across the known galaxy.
A historic union of the most advanced civilizations in the galaxy was formed with the hope of destroying the Reapers and ending their cycle of extinction forever.
In the end, their victory over the Reapers was the result of the courage of a single person, an Earth Systems Alliance Naval Commander. One Human woman saved all life in the galaxy and guaranteed they would have a future. This was why even though the war was over, it really wasn't. Not yet.
For those who knew they owed a living legend their lives and more, the most desperate moments of The Reaper War came just after its end....
The Citadel had once been a monolith of a space station, a city-sized world in and of itself that became the heart of intergalactic commerce and government for the advanced races of the galaxy. Its Citadel Council became the highest authority, administrators of interspecies politics and the final arbiters of disputes that affected entire civilizations. It was a troubled system, but one that worked...the station itself, its Wards like petals of a great iron flower, once reached out to offer a sense of order and hope.
The Citadel was destroyed now, shattered to pieces that floated in Sol System space dangerously close to Earth...the debris field was wider than the distance between the Human homeworld and its lone Moon. Each great Ward was wreckage, still breaking apart from structural weaknesses inflicted by the station's initial destruction. Millions of lives -- both those who worked on and protected the station and the massive numbers of refugees from many worlds who sought safe haven on the Citadel -- were lost a considerable time before that when a score of Reapers attacked the station, annihilated the Citadel Defense Force, and took control of it with terrible speed. The Councilors of the Citadel, last known to be on the station, were also feared dead. The Reapers then transported the Citadel to Earth space, where they had long established their dominance, to defend it against the overwhelming multi-species United Fleet and their superweapon, the Crucible, which could only work by interfacing with something on the station known only as the Catalyst.
In one of the great pieces of wreckage, a part of the once-majestic Presidium Tower central to the station, the United Fleet's sensors detected and fixed on a single, faint lifesign.
The sensors established that the bio-signature of the lifesign was Human...after realizing who that lifesign might belong to, the Commander of the United Fleet, Alliance Admiral Steven Hackett, immediately sent a search and rescue team for an all-important mission of mercy.
One hour and fourteen Universal Standard Minutes after the destruction of the Reapers:
The search and rescue team was in fact a multi-racial platoon of some of the best soldiers of their respective militaries: Asari, Humans, Salarians, Krogan, and Turian. The one who led the team was Major Kirrahe of the Salarian Special Tasks Group (STG)...he led the rest with a grim expression down a darkened corridor of this piece of the Presidium Tower where many, many bodies laid. There was still some air and gravity here, due only to secondary systems that hadn't been destroyed in this part of the Tower. The atmosphere was still dangerously thin, and so every member of the team was sealed in their combat armor...the Asari Commandos of the group simply needed face masks connected to their air systems. They had to hurry...the Tower was losing structural integrity at a steady pace. The team finally reached a large set of doors; the STG Major looked at his Omni-Tool readings with narrowed onyx eyes. Kirrahe reported in: "Admiral, Alpha here. We're close to the top of the Tower, about to access a massive chamber. The lifesign is within, very close."
Admiral Hackett responded, "You don't need my permission, Major, just go!"
Efficiently, Kirrahe gestured to the two Krogan soldiers in the team, and then at the doors before them. "I want in there, right now!" The Krogan quickly obliged: they holstered their massive shotguns and each took a door...their powerful fingers worked into the seam between the doors, and with brute strength they opened the doors wide in seconds. Kirrahe and the rest of the platoon aimed their weapons into the chamber.
The Major blinked a few times with surprise. His Special Tasks Group had long made it their business to know as much about the Citadel as possible. The station wasn't a creation of the advanced races of the day...in fact, it was discovered by the Asari a very long time ago. The Citadel was once believed to have been built by the Protheans before it was discovered recently that its architects were in fact the Reapers. The STG began formal and intensive investigation of the station after the crisis involving the Reaper Sovereign years ago, which foreshadowed The Reaper War...up until recently there were too many places the STG were unable to access. Such areas effectively belonged to the mysterious drones that maintained the Citadel known only as the Keepers.
As he gestured for the rest of the team to follow him, Kirrahe thought: Without a doubt, I never heard of anyone seeing this part of the Tower. They cautiously entered a huge chamber...whatever its purpose was couldn't be determined since it was in smoking ruins, but it was covered by a dome of transparent material that had developed deadly-looking stress fractures. In spite of those cracks, he and the team were given a majestic view of the space outside. They saw the Earth, where tragically most of its cities were burining, glowing crimson across the face of the planet in the distance...the rest of the wreckage great and small of both the station and the Crucible...many dead Reapers, Capitals and Destroyers, also floating in the void...and the multitude of surviving ships of the United Fleet just further in the distance, waiting.
Kirrahe ordered to the rest of the team, "Fan out and make sure this room is safe! You know who we're here for, and her safety is Priority One! We will not take ANY chances!" They quickly, quietly obeyed, the flashlights attached to their weapons bringing light to the dark. The Major looked around and then up...he saw there was a second, higher level to this chamber. Most of it collapsed down to this level, it seemed, along with tons of wreckage of technology turned into unrecognizable junk. He looked to an Asari Commando close by. "Assist me in finding her, Lieutenant, we don't have much time!"
The beautiful, deadly Commando nodded. "Of course, sir!" They both activated their Omni-Tools, set them to scan for a Human lifesign. It didn't even take a moment before the Commando informed the Major, "Sir, this way!" Her lithe form rushed into the dark, and it was all Kirrahe could do to keep pace. Thirty, perhaps forty yards later, she stopped suddenly. He stopped just behind her as she said, "Goddess...she should be right there...!" The Asari projected a bright beam of light into the debris just ahead, and Kirrahe did the same.
One hour and 22 minutes after the war, they both saw the body lying not far away in the rubble. Kirrahe, for his part, was stunned nearly speechless. If he had looked at the Asari, he would have seen she looked exactly the way he felt. The Major was only able to murmur at first, "Holy shit."
The one Major Kirrahe and the Commando were looking at was, amazingly, still alive...the fragile form of the Human woman was, to put it kindly, ravaged by a massive explosion. Most of her combat armor had been blasted away; what was left was charred and seared black, but the bold 'N7' insigna was still recognizable on the remains of her chestplate. Her left arm was gone...some form of shrapnel damage, the kind of mortal wound Kirrahe had seen too much of on too many battlefields, had ripped it from the rest of her body and couldn't be seen anywhere. Her right arm was in better shape: at least it was in one piece, but her heavy pistol seemed to be burned into the skin of the hand that held it. Kirrahe focused on the woman's face and felt a surge of sadness because if this was her, the brave Alliance officer he had the privilege of fighting alongside with in battle twice, he couldn't recognize her. Her visage was that badly burned.
Kirrahe shook his head angrily and shouted, "MEDIC!"
The three Humans in the team were all medical officers, but one was the lead...he quickly reached them, knelt down next to the body of the woman, and began examining her. Kirrahe impatiently asked, "We need to know if it's her or not now! You can check her dog tags...!"
The lead medic looked up at Kirrahe and interrupted: "I-I can't at the moment, Major...what's left of her armor has been burned into her skin."
Kirrahe frowned deeply. "Dammit...!"
"I'm going to run a DNA scan, it'll just take a moment!" The Human male quickly adjusted his Omni-Tool accordingly and proceeded as the rest of the platoon collected around them.
The Asari Commando already with Kirrahe knelt on the other side of the woman close to her nearly-ruined body. She realized the Human was conscious! The Asari softly questioned her... "Can you hear me? Please give some sign you can hear me." A weak moan was her answer. In spite of hundreds of years of experience as a professional soldier, the Commando's heart went out to this woman. But they had to be sure... "Can you speak? We need to be sure who you are. Please identify yourself."
Each breath the grievously injured Human took was made with clear effort and so much pain. Still...her burned and blistered lips managed to part and she tried to talk. She could only manage to speak just above a whisper, but Major Kirrahe recognized the voice immediately as she identified herself:
The lead medic looked up from his readings with wide eyes and exclaimed, "DNA scan confirms, Major! It's her!"
They had found her.
Commander Mary Shepard.
Kirrahe quickly keyed his comm system and reported, "Admiral, Kirrahe speaking! We've found Commander Shepard! She's alive but in critical need of medical attention! Preparing to extract her from this location!"
Admiral Hackeet shouted, "Get her the hell out of there now, Alpha! Move!"
Somewhere in the Attican Traverse, on a planet in a remote star system, was the final resting place of the Normandy SR-2...the ship Mary Shepard commanded during The Reaper War.
The original SSV Normandy SR-1 was the first of its kind, a cooperative effort between the Earth Systems Alliance and the Turian Hierarchy, before it was destroyed by the Collectors. This new version, the SR-2, was built by the Human-centric terrorist organization Cerberus. The frigate was created based on the original's designs to help Shepard investigate and if need be combat the Collectors after Cerberus brought her back to life about two years before. Her having to work with a terrorist group was a necessary evil, since all involved wanted to stop the harvesting of Human colonies by the Collectors, who were commanded by the Reapers. When that mission was over, she was ordered back to Earth by the Alliance Navy and the SR-2 was taken and retrofitted to meet Alliance specs. The Normandy was literally invaluable to Shepard during The Reaper War, thanks in part to the prowess of Flight Lieutenant Jeff 'Joker' Moreau.
The Normandy SR-2 flew no longer, and perhaps it never would again...it laid dead like a giant raptor that fell from the sky into the wilderness of this alien world, its crash landing tearing a long scar into the landscape before it had finally come to rest.
Maybe if he died, he'd be with the one he loved and lost again.
It had only been minutes since the Normandy crash landed. As he sat on his knees on the floor, Jeff 'Joker' Moreau held in his arms the upper body of EDI, the beauty of her gleaming synthetic form lifeless in his arms. This was only an extension of EDI, the artificial intelligence once also known as Enhanced Defense Intelligence, controlled in the same way she controlled the higher functions of the ship itself. As other members of the crew assessed damage and casualties, it was realized terribly that EDI was gone. Every circuit and system she was part of at the time the beam of unknowable energy from the Crucible, the beam Joker tried desperately yet futilely to evade, struck the Normandy and fused and destroyed them. Critically damaged the frigate and sent it spiralling nearly beyond control into this star system...but Joker, a pilot literally second to none, fought desperately and succeeded in accomplishing a crash landing on a planet that could support life, according to sensors.
A charitable soul would have told Joker that any landing you could walk away from was a good one.
But Joker didn't care...all he cared about he held in his arms, and tears spilled down his cheeks freely. To think he once hated EDI, called her 'ship cancer' because she was so damned...there, giving him shit about one little thing or another. Their relationship had evolved over time, and he had grown to care for her, and she grew to care for him above everyone else on the ship. Then EDI adopted the body of a synthetic Cerberus agent, made it her own. The fact they had become so close, and then they could touch and interact with one another on even the most intimate levels, made their feelings for each other grow to desire...to love.
Both Joker and Commander Shepard were elemental in EDI's evolution as an artificial lifeform, to helping her understand what it meant to be alive. Shepard, in fact, helped EDI understand many things, in part because of the A.I.'s nearly endless questions. But it was when Shepard was a leader that EDI truly understood that knowing what it meant to be alive wasn't enough. Being alive was what mattered, and EDI was an apt pupil to all the things Shepard could teach her. A legendary hero and the Human she loved helped EDI find her Humanity.
Joker squeezed his eyes shut...he couldn't bear to look at EDI, her face tilted up to the ceiling and lifeless, as he held her. He could only say the same thing over and over: "Goddamn it...god damn it..."
A soft, gentle voice spoke to him then: "Joker?"
He sniffed and looked up to see Doctor Liara T'Soni looking down at him with worry. The beautiful young Asari was a little over a century old, and like EDI, became so much more than she once was because of Commander Shepard. Liara was once an archeologist who sought out the artifacts of the Prothean race with zeal. When she was threatened by the machinations of Sovereign and its agents -- one of them her own mother, Matriarch Benezia -- years before, Shepard took Liara in and made her a part of her crew. Ever since, she helped the young Asari find her strength and courage in the face of dangers that threatened them both, and her fascination for the lovely Human Commander touched by Prothean technology became something much more elemental. Ever since Shepard told the young Asari that she felt desire for her in return, Liara began to know the meaning of happiness.
Liara couldn't have imagined life without Mary Shepard...the woman she loved.
And then suddenly, with terrible speed, they were stranded an unknowable distance away from Shepard...and what could have been happening to her? Liara hoped-believed-prayed her lover was still alive, that she had won once and for all against the Reapers. All she could do was hope...for now, as she looked down at Joker, she knew he needed help. As his wet eyes looked up to her, she began hesitantly: "Joker...I don't know what to say...I am so sorry..."
But Joker suddenly snapped, "Saying something won't help, Liara, so don't!" The moment he finished saying that, however, he looked more surprised than she did. His expression broke from sadness again, and he managed: "I-I'm sorry. I...I loved her..."
Liara nodded deeply. "EDI knew that, Jeff. Have no doubt she knew."
Joker managed to breathe a little deeper...and he nodded, but shakily.
"Could someone please tell me what the hell just happened?!" That was a question most everyone on the Normandy was trying to answer, but in this moment frustration made Garrus Vakarian shout it as he moved into the cockpit. The tall Turian's impatience was quickly cooled by the sight of Joker holding EDI, and the elemental sadness in Liara's deep blue eyes. Garrus said in a quieter tone, "I'm still trying to make sense of it, we just got shot down by the Crucible?? But why...!"
Liara offered, "Sensor records are incomplete, Garrus, but they seem to indicate that the Crucible targeted all artificial life...not just the Reapers."
Four more entered the area: Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, a young Quarian engineer...Human Alliance Lieutenant-Commander Ashley Williams and frontline soldier James Vega...and the last known survivor of his race, the ancient Prothean warrior Javik. His four eyes took in the scene as Vega couldn't help but comment: "Damn, really? Nobody could've known that would happen...!"
Joker shot him a look and said harshly, "That's what kids get when they don't know what a loaded gun is, but they want to play with it anyway!" He almost lost himself to despair again, but he managed to get ahold of himself.
Vega frowned. "I hope the Crucible did what we wanted it to do, which was kill the goddamn Reapers."
Tali shook her head, her eyes bright with worry. "That doesn't matter to me as much as knowing how Shepard is doing." At the moment, she was looking at Liara, and the Commander's lover could only look down with regret, fighting to hold back her own tears. Tali realized... "Oh Liara, I..."
"I-I am all right, Tali," Liara managed to say. "But I wish with all my soul we didn't leave Earth...leave her."
There was no one on the Normandy who didn't feel that way. Ashley Williams said with an anger directed toward herself, "We should have found a way to stay and help the Commander! We should have stayed in London in the first place! I didn't give a damn if Harbinger and a wolfpack of Reapers were in our way or not!"
With as much calm as she could muster, Liara said, "Shepard would have cared. Remember what Admiral Hackett said when he told us to fall back..."
Task Force Hammer made a last, all-or-nothing drive for the teleport beam that would take any who used it to the Citadel. Tens of thousands of Humans, Krogan, Asari, Turians and more rushed by land and air. Commander Shepard charged forward with Ashley and Liara close behind. Then Harbinger and the Reapers descended and started firing on them, annihilating them.Normandy as they searched for Shepard, for any casualties that had to be taken from the battlefield.
"Hackett to Normandy! Hackett to Normandy, respond now!"
Joker quickly replied, "Normandy here, sir! I'm still standing by for Shepard's squad and several casualties! If you've got orders from me, I'm a little busy right now!"
"You're in the firing range of those damn Reapers, Moreau, and that building you're behind won't mean a damn! Get out of there!"
Joker shook his head as he said, "Not without my commander, sir!"
"Joker!" He turned to see Liara run up to the cockpit. Both Joker and EDI looked at the nearly breathless Asari with concern as she reported, "We...we got as many injured as we could find aboard, but...b-but we haven't found Shepard yet!"can't leave her behind, Admiral! She's alone out there!"want the enemy to notice by trying to reach her?! Would Shepard want you to risk your lives needlessly?!?"
Joker's heart sank. "Shit! She's gotta be closer to the beam than we thought! It's okay, I'll stand by here while you guys find her!"
Hackett interrupted harshly: "The hell you will, Flight Lieutenant! I'm giving you a direct order to get out of there RIGHT NOW, and you'd better damn well follow it!"
The pilot fired back, "With respect, Admiral, NUTS! I'm not leaving Shepard behind!"
Liara appealed to Hackett, as well: "We
The Admiral coolly said, "I sympathize, Doctor T'Soni, but there's nothing you can do right now! Look at the transport beam and those damn Reapers defending it! Combined scans from the fleet have pinpointed Shepard! She's still alive and about to reach the beam! The only reason she's gotten that far is most likely because she's so small and there's so much havoc happening in your area, the Reapers haven't noticed her! Do you
"I don't give a damn!" This was from Garrus, who walked into the cockpit with Ashley and Tali. "Whether we live or die, Admiral, we must help her!"
"No, Garrus!" The Turian looked with shock at Liara, who said those soft yet firm words. Her eyes were full of despair, yet she tried to keep her voice calm. "Admiral Hackett is right. The teleport beam is surrounded by Reapers now. If we try to reach Shepard, we'll have no chance."
"I...I am forced to agree with Liara," EDI quietly said, but her characteristically neutral tone was heavy with emotion. "The possibility of surviving such an overwhelming enemy force is zero. But if Shepard is close enough to the beam, her relatively small size compared to the Reapers and the chaotic state of the battle zone could give her the chance to slip by them and reach the teleport beam undetected." She reflexively looked at the one she loved...Joker could only stare at EDI with wide-eyed disbelief, but she had to conclude: "I see no fault in the Admiral's logic, Jeff. There is nothing we can do now."
"I don't want to leave her, either," Liara said in a choked voice as she looked into Garrus' eyes. "Dammit, that's the last thing I want to do! But the odds are too heavily against us. We have to pull back..." The Asari turned to Joker then, a fire burning in her deep blue eyes. "...but only for now." The message was clear: falling back didn't mean defeat...not as long as Shepard was alive. They could only wait for an opening, a chance however slim, to be there for her.Normandy, preparing for liftoff! But you'd better damn well hear this, Admiral, we're not going far! You hear?!? We will NOT abandon Commander Shepard!"
As they rocketed higher into the air, death beams from the Reapers slicing through the air after them, EDI said softly, "Magnifying sensors and directing them to the teleport beam. Scanning...I found Commander Shepard. She is only a few yards away from the beam. Wait! Detecting a second lifesign, also Human, also very close to the teleport beam! Will attempt to contact...!" She paused for a beat...then... "They are gone."
Liara looked with building fear at EDI. "Gone...?"
"Sensors show Commander Shepard and the unknown lifesign have taken the teleport beam up to the Citadel."
Tali breathed, "Keelah..." There was nothing they could do now. It made the Quarian feel so much despair, as well. Her overwhelmed voice shook as she said, "Shepard won't die. She would never, ever let that happen."
In spite of her mood, Ashley gave the big man a curious look. "I would've thought you'd be the first to say 'damn the torpedoes', Vega."
"Hey, I may be crazy, but I'm not dumb." Vega's expression turned serious then. "Don't doubt I feel the same way you do, ma'am. I feel like we betrayed the Commander anyway, leaving her behind with no one but whoever else took that teleport beam with her."
Ashley's eyes filled with despair and regret. "But things only got worse after that. We had to run...we had to leave Shepard again!"
Each minute the crew of the Normandy was forced to wait was torture as they kept to the lower atmosphere of Earth. They waited for some kind of sign, any form of chance to take off to the Citadel and breach its closed Wards. The unique metal of the stations petals were so dense, unfortunately, even a Reaper would have had difficulty cutting through. Then."Normandy, alert! You've been targeted by the Crucible!"
They saw something begin to happen to the Crucible and the Citadel...the Presidium Tower itself was starting to glow. A few seconds later, an emergency message came through from Admiral Hackett:
Joker couldn't believe his ears. "What?!?"
"Confirmed, Jeff," EDI said as she examined readings from her station. "A targeting solution on this ship has been established."
"I don't understand why it's happening, Normandy, but you've got to escape! Get out of the solar system if you have to!"
Joker began to cry out, "But Commander Shepard -- !"
"There's nothing you can do for her, Moreau, and you've only got seconds! Get out of there NOW!"
"Jeff." He looked to EDI, and he saw a...sadness in her eyes. She reported softly, "The Crucible appears to be targeting not simply the Reapers, but every artificial lifeform in this system. And across the galaxy."
"Every...?" In a heartbeat, he understood why the Crucible targeted them.no, dammit, NO!"
His hands flew over the controls with a furious pace...the Normandy then rocketed away from Earth, through the chaos happening in space between the United Fleet and the Reapers, and towards the outer fringes of the solar system at FTL speed. He thought quickly and set course directly for the Sol Relay and transmitted destination coordinates...with little time to really do much but hope, he input his destination: the Newton Relay in the Attican Traverse. It was the first, best place he could think of to get away from the Crucible. As a bright crimson light glared from deep in Earth's system signaling the end of The Reaper War, the frigate interfaced with the Sol Relay and made the jump.Normandy was deep in Attican Traverse territory then...with building dread, Joker knew somehow it would be a bad idea to slow down. It only took moments before he was proven right. The alarm klaxon sounded as sensors detected the beam of unthinkably high levels of energy behind them, searing through space after them. He cursed himself and started pushing the Normandy to its limits and then past them, trying to defy the beam...trying to defy fate."Jeff...this ship is not fast enough to escape the energy beam."
Close by, EDI looked at Joker.
Joker didn't care as he desperately worked the controls to evade the beam. Do something. Anything. "I won't let it get you, EDI, I swear! We're all gonna make it for Shepard!"
EDI...smiled then. "I want to hope too, Jeff. But..." Then her beautiful synthetic form rose from the seat next to him, and she walked with measured, graceful steps back toward the CIC.
"EDI?!" The ship began to shake...systems were sending alarms that they were being taxed to their limits. Joker ignored them as he looked behind him. "EDI, where are you going?!?"
The doors to the cockpit opened for EDI, and she stopped to stand in the threshold. She looked back down the long corridor. Toward fate as it chased them. Her gleaming form stood still, prepared, in spite of the worsening shaking of the ship around her. EDI felt pain from what the Normandy was being put through. She ignored it. The A.I. who learned so much about what it meant to live turned her face toward Joker, her voice full of love and regret. "I am sorry. I hoped this would not happen. I did not want to endanger you in any way, Jeff."
As they approached a star system in the distance, the shaking reached tremendous levels...sparks exploded from consoles around Joker, but all he cared about was EDI.
EDI looked back deeper into the ship, but she spoke one last time, and her gentle words reached the one she cared for above all: "I truly do love you."
Joker tried to cry out, "EDI...!"
And then the beam reached them.
Liara glanced with regret at Joker as he cradled EDI's lifeless form as she sat behind a console behind the seat the A.I. took next to the pilot. Her blue fingers danced over the controls... "Fortunately, we still have some sensors working. As far as I can tell, it's a star system in an uncharted region of the Attican Traverse, just outside of the Kepler Verge Cluster. We're a very long distance from the Relay we exited...wait." She looked much more closely at the readings. "I...I think the sensors might have been damaged by the crash landing, as well."
Garrus asked, "Why, what's wrong?"
"The Newton Relay...i-it isn't there anymore." That statement earned looks from her friends ranging from shock to disbelief...even Joker looked up with confusion. Liara softly added, "All the sensors detect at the Relay's location is residual energy from a detonation...and debris."
Garrus stepped up behind Liara and looked at the sensor readings, too. He was quiet for a long moment...then... "If this is right, even if we could get the Normandy flying again...we can't get back home. Not for a very, very long time."
Unlike the rest, Vega was seething. He suddenly shouted, "Son of a BITCH!" And for emphasis, he punched the bulkhead next to him with a bare fist. He didn't hurt himself, but he did make a big dent.
Javik, who had been quiet until now, stepped toward Vega. "Calm yourself, Human. It does not serve us to be destructive."
Vega whirled on the Prothean and shouted in his face, "Screw YOU, Four-Eyes! It's bad enough we lost EDI, now we're stranded god-knows-where! You understand what that means, right?!? It means there's no way we can get back to Commander Shepard! We're failing her when she needs us the most!"
Surprisingly, the Prothean warrior simply looked back at Vega, calm. "The Commander would disagree with you."
Vega's eyes narrowed. "And why do you say that?!"
"Because Commander Shepard is not as harsh with others as you are being with yourself." Javik let that sink in, and by this time he had everyone's attention. He looked at them all as he continued. "I sympathize with James Vega's feelings. The problem we share is the same: we are warriors unable to fight with the one we have sworn to follow. But I learned much since I woke up. One thing I have learned is to have faith in Commander Shepard." He looked to the faces of each of them and said, "I believe she is all right. Indeed, I believe she is victorious! I have faith she destroyed the Reapers in all of our names!"
Liara felt her heart swell, and she managed a real smile for the first time in what felt like too long. Everyone there who cared for Shepard understood and appreciated Javik's words. Tali spoke for them all, with faith of her own, "Javik is right. Shepard didn't fail. She would never let herself fail."
Garrus nodded deeply. "Amen, Tali."
The ship's Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Karin Chakwas, approached them...it became clear she heard what was just said as she declared, "It's nice to know I'm not the only one with positive thoughts!"
Everyone looked to the matronly figure. Ashley nodded and asked, "Doctor Chakwas, what's the word?"
Chakwas reported, "No further casualties as a result of that energy beam's impact or the crash. Thankfully, the injuries of the soldiers we picked up in London didn't worsen, either. We...only had one fatality." She approached Jeff as he held EDI, and knelt next to them. She looked at the pilot with sadness. "Jeff...?"
Jeff looked at her, managing to finally compose himself. But... "I-I'm okay...at least, I'm trying to be. It just hurts so damn much, knowing she's gone..."
Chakwas nodded silently...she and everyone there cared for EDI, as well. "I miss her too, Jeff." She lightly touched one of her gleaming shoulders, still trying to get used to the fact EDI was gone. "She was...truly extraordinary."
"Ah, begging your pardon, everyone." Everyone there looked to Mission Specialist Samantha Traynor, who had just arrived. She was also clearly affected by EDI's death, but she managed to stay official. She had to, otherwise she wouldn't have known when she'd be able to stop crying. "I just received an initial report from Engineer Adams on the damage. It...it isn't good."
Garrus almost laughed. "So why should we have good news? It's okay, Traynor, just tell us."
The young officer nodded. "Yessir. After a ship-wide diagnostic, most of our critical systems like Life Support are still online. And...that's pretty much it for things that are working. The drive core is dead, three of our four engines are gone -- literally -- and all comm systems are offline. Both of the Kodiak shuttles in the hangar bay were heavily damaged, but Adams believes it's possible to salvage one. He...wasn't too sure on that point, unfortunately."
Ashley asked, "What about the Normandy's transponder?"
Samantha's expression was suddenly doubtful. "Um, Ken and Gabby are working on it now...but..."
Ashley gave the younger woman a look. "'But' what? Our transponder is supposed to have some of the most hardened protections outside of the Medical Bay and Life Support!"
"With respect, Lieutenant-Commander, we all felt how powerful that energy beam was. It's a minor miracle anything on this ship is running right now."
"Okay," Joker said, trying to absorb this news. "So we can't fly. We can't call for help. And the one thing that can let the rest of the galaxy know where we are won't work!"
Samantha said in a brighter tone, "If it helps, looking outside of this ship gives us much better news. I took the liberty to scan this planet. It's atmosphere and environment are clean and it seems compatible with every race here. No signs of any intelligent life, either. I'd compare it to Earth a long time before any Humans learned to build fires."
Doctor Chakwas nodded. "I'd have to run extensive tests to determine whether or not the air and water are healthy for us all. Also, I'll need to make sure nothing that's a part of this ecosystem, especially local bacteria, might adversely affect our immune systems."
Garrus added, "We'll also have to figure out how much of a threat the local wildlife is."
Joker looked at the others thoughtfully. "So...should just taking a look outside hurt us?"
Chakwas thought for a moment and said, "Just as long as decontamination systems in the main airlock still work." Fortunately, they did.
The main hatchway of the now-flightless Normandy slowly opened...the first to step out was Joker, who shielded his eyes from the bright rays of this star system's sun. He was secretly glad to be breathing pleasantly fresh air and not with EDI...if he stayed with her body any longer, he wouldn't have wanted to let go. But he had to, right? If he had to, then why did he hate himself for doing it? He carefully set foot on uneven soil, the first alien being from another world to do so, and thought, One small step for man...cause I'd break a leg if I tried to jump.
Liara T'Soni was next...in spite of everything, she was curious to see this new world no one else in the civilized galaxy had ever explored. Or stained with their influence. The surroundings were nearly tropical, yet the non-humid air was cooler than one expected looking at the thick green of this ecosystem. What appeared to be birds -- or this world's equivalent to them -- flew in the distance. Just from sight alone, this planet met all of the criteria of a 'garden world', a virtually virgin and naturally fertile world ideal for colonization.
Liara looked carefully at the surroundings and couldn't help but say, "Beautiful."
Close by, Joker nodded. "Yeah...that about says it." He was silent for a moment. "I just wish EDI was still here to see it."
With sudden sadness, Liara looked back at him and could only say, "I wish Shepard was here."
For now, for all of the crew of the lost Normandy, it was the one thing they wished for above all others.
None of them could have known how close Mary Shepard was to dying...or that thankfully, she was about to be rescued.
TO BE CONTINUED...
It was targeting every synthetic lifeform. Even EDI.
With an expression that turned from shock to desperate rage, Joker tried to deny it. But he couldn't. "No...
Garrus looked down at Tali and gently touched her slender, armored shoulder with his fingers. He reassured, "The first chance we get, we will be with her again. I don't give a damn if we have to rip a hole into the Citadel to get to her!"
As he flew, Joker's eyes were as haunted as he felt as he said under his breath, "Just hang on, Commander. Please hang on!"
But there was no chance now. Joker sadly nodded, understanding that. "Yeah." Liara looked at Garrus, Tali and Ashley...she could only imagine they felt the same way she did, that they were failing her, but to rush blindly to death wouldn't have helped Shepard at all. Joker turned back to his controls, and his fingers flew over them as he said with increasing anger and volume: "This is
They heard Hackett quietly order, "Fall back to low atmo for now and stand by for further instructions. For what it's worth, Normandy...I sympathize. I don't want to lose her, either. Hackett out."
The silver frigate began to lift off from the blasted, ruined heart of London then. Ashley was ready to burst into tears. "Dear God, we're leaving her behind. We can't leave her behind. Not like Kaidan..." The others in the cockpit -- except for EDI -- couldn't help but remember with her: those terrible moments years ago they had to leave behind Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, a soft-spoken yet brave Alliance Lieutenant, on Virmire.
One beam from Harbinger cut into the earth between Shepard and the rest of her squad...Liara and Ashley were knocked off-balance. They managed to stand and couldn't see ahead of them because of the smoke. They couldn't move forward because of a deep rift carved into the ground before them. They called in the
Several soldiers in need of medical attention were found...Shepard's squad helped them by foot to the Normandy, which landed behind one of the few buildings in the area still standing, for cover. Minutes passed that felt like forever for Joker as he waited. Then he received a priority message: