The Problem of the Ancients
Disclaimer: Mass Effect and related characters belong to Bioware and Electronic Arts, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and related characters belong to Nintendo and the now defunct Silicon Knights.
Three choices stood before her, three impossible choices. All her hard work, all the building up, all the gathering led to this single point of failure. Her and her choice. Any choice she made now could save the galaxy or doom it, but regardless of what happened, she wouldn’t be around to see the results. The Catalyst had impressed that upon her. If she chose destruction, she would wipe out the Reaper threat for all time, but that had the downside of undoing two important things she had accomplished in her quest to get here. The geth were allied with their creators, the quarians. They were at peace, and her friend
sacrificed himself to allow that to happen. In addition, there was the budding relationship between her ship and its pilot. Joker and EDI had started to get closer ever since she’d managed to obtain a body of her own, and she’d encouraged it. She wanted her crew to find happiness, and though it was strange, she’d heard of stranger relationships. If she chose destruction, these efforts of peace would be for naught. The geth would be gone, and EDI would be destroyed. The threat of the Reapers would be no more, nor would any synthetic life form. She couldn’t let that happen.
The second choice, as she looked to the left, was one that ate at her. Control. The Illusive Man wanted it; he’d wanted humans to stand atop the galactic scene and rule. He’d thought that humans deserved it. That they deserved the best. The power of the Reapers would allow much under the control of the right person. She could stop wars, enforce peace, prevent slavery. All she had to do was trust that by controlling the Reapers they were not controlling her. That she was not given over to indoctrination. The Catalyst said that the Illusive Man was too far under their control for him to successfully control them. While she wasn’t, that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t be if she joined them. Controlling an armada of Reapers was a tempting prospect, but not if it meant giving up whom she was in the process. She was willing to die for her beliefs, but not give up her identity.
The third choice was by far the strangest. Synthesis, the Catalyst had called it. Somehow due to the synthetic parts that Cerberus had put into her body, along with the biological parts, she was the perfect template for the Crucible to create a new form of life. To convert the peoples of the galaxy into a life form that was both synthetic and biological. She’d no clue how that was possible, and it would probably take years of study for someone to explain that to her. Years that she didn’t have. The longer that she took to make her decision, the smaller the window was to make it.
The final choice was to make no choice at all. To leave the situation unchanged. The races of the galaxy were outgunned by the Reapers, as she hadn’t had enough proof to get them prepared. The hopes of the galaxy rested here on this Crucible, and if Shepard failed to act, the Reapers would win, and the cycle would continue. The next cycle would be more prepared though, as Liara had set up information caches to pass on. They would be prepared. They would win.
She shook her head. The point of this was to break the cycle now
. So she chose. The path that would not undo what she had worked toward. The path that would not cause her to lose who she was. She threw away her gun and ran along the middle path of the Crucible, ignoring her injuries. They didn’t matter anyway, not with what was going to happen. She leapt off the platform at the edge of the Crucible, and her body fell toward the gathering arc of energy. I’m sorry, Liara. Guess I won’t be coming back after all. Thane, I’ll be seeing you soon...
As she hit the energy, she could have sworn she heard an echoing of mad laughter... and Andrea Shepard died.
The wind forced itself out of Shepard’s lungs as she struck the ground. Intense pain wracked itself through her as the fall aggravated her injuries, but she managed to force her way through it and climbed, ever so slowly to her feet. Initially, all she saw was darkness and her ears rung something fierce from the fall. Blinded and deafened, she waited for her senses to adjust, and as they did, she almost wished they hadn’t.
The ringing stopped first and agony replaced it. Not Shepard’s agony, but a chorus of tortured screams and yells that echoed out from around her. After thirty seconds the screams stopped as quickly as they began, and her eyes began to adjust. Gray was the first thing she noticed, a world of gray that surrounded her, but slowly her eyes began to add detail, and as they did, the screaming began anew.
Shepard stood on the edge of a platform that seemed to float mid-air. Stone railings lined the edges, but she could see over; there was no support nor ground. A yawning chasm extended below the platform, infinitely deep yet she could see walls in the distance, leading up to an arched ceiling above her. The platform itself was lined with what looked and felt like marble, but upon closer examination, Shepard saw faces below her. She stood on the stone faces of people, and they moved
. Their expressions matched the sounds of the echoing screams, and she almost swore that they pleaded with her. They wanted her to end their suffering. There were dozens in this area of the platform alone.
“Hell. I’m in Hell.” Shepard shuddered. You’d think that sacrificing yourself to save the galaxy merited Heaven, but she couldn’t deny what she saw. “No weapons, still injured and alone...”
Ahead, the platform continued, and she could see statues that lined the edges. Despite her apprehension, Shepard pushed forward, each step bringing a note of change to the screams. Shepard refused to look down and see the source.
She approached the first statue and examined it. The workmanship must have been fine once, but now it stood at half the statue it used to be. The upper half was utterly destroyed, as if someone had intentionally taken a sledgehammer to it, but the bottom half was somewhat recognizable. The subject of the statue had been wearing some sort of classical armor and a set of sandals, and as Shepard’s eyes drifted lower, she saw that the statue had an engraving, “P. Augustus.” The second statue, on the opposite side of the platform from Augustus was more intact. A girl, dressed in the clothes of some tribal dancer, stood with a look of fear on her sculpted face. The statue was labeled “Ellia.” The next down the line was of a longhaired man in his twenties, also sculpted with a look of fear, “Anthony.” More statues lined the rest of the walkway: a heavy set man in Renaissance clothing, “R. Bianchi,” an Arabic-looking man with a turban, “Karim,” a man dressed as a Franciscan monk, “P. Luther,” a man in British colonial-era clothing, “M. Roivas,” and a man wearing a twentieth century suit, “E. Roivas.” Each statue had two things in common: they were perfectly sculpted, and each subject had a look of perfect fear sculpted into his or her face.
Shepard let her eyes flit to beyond the last statue and she saw what lay at the end of the platform. A pedestal shaped like a skeletal, desiccated hand reached out of the ground and the fingers closed tightly around what was in its grasp. Cautiously, Shepard approached the pedestal as she had nowhere else to go, and ever so slowly, with a moaning creak that could be heard over the screams, the fingers of the hand opened. A hidebound book laid on the pedestal, proffered by the hand for her taking. Shepard approached and examined the book. Shrunken bones decorated its sides, likely human, given her location. The clasp of the book laid prominent on its cover and etched into it was a black rune that she was certain that even if her translator was working right now, she wouldn’t be able to identify it.
Shepard stared at the book for a couple minutes, trying to drown out the cacophony of screams that surrounded her. There was no visible way out of wherever here was, Hell, or otherwise. She supposed she could chance the yawning chasm, but that didn’t seem too bright. However, there was this book. She could hardly call it a book with how old it looked and its size. This tome might be more accurate, offered to her by forces unknown in a place unknown. She should be dead.
“If I’m already dead, and there’s nothing else here...” Shepard psyched herself up a bit. “I might as well grab it. “
Shepard reached out and lifted the book from the pedestal. A familiar sensation overtook her, one like what she’d felt before on Eden Prime. Visions assaulted her mind.
Stone pillars drove themselves into the massive pulsating purple flesh of a beast made up of multiple eyes and sharp-toothed maws.
Shepard reeled at the image, somehow she felt for the beast. It didn’t deserve that.
Hundreds of humans were stacked upon each other, and cement was poured over them, a pillar of flesh and stone.
Shepard gagged. Who could be so cruel?
In the vacuum of space, a massive creature the size of a dreadnought floated. Its gaping maw glowed with bright red light. It had two claws... Shepard couldn’t even find words to describe the creature, her mind barely comprehended its presence. Twin beams of light lanced at it, shots from a Thanix cannon. Cephalopod shaped ships floated up to the abomination, some smaller, others larger... Reapers. Reapers were attacking it. Leading the attack was Harbinger.
Shepard couldn’t... no. This vision... We are your salvation by your destruction
In the ruins of an ancient city, a blonde woman dressed in jeans and a tank top fought a skeletal creature dressed in Roman centurion armor. As she goes to make the final blow, he blasts her back.
“The Darkness... shall be... Eternal!”
Andrea Shepard blacked out.
Shepard woke to the sounds of life sign monitoring equipment around her. The rhythmic beeping of the machine monitored her heart rate, and she could feel the tube in her throat forcing air into her lungs. In and out, up and down, like clockwork, her breaths were forced to be steady. She tried to identify where she was. Obviously, she was in a hospital bed, the acrid sterile smell told her she was in an actual
hospital and not some makeshift one that was set up for war casualties.
Her eyes flicked to the wall. While it was mostly barren, there were a few bits of writing. “Intensive Care Unit: Section C.” The text was clearly in English, not translated by her translator. So that placed her... Well, somewhere that English was the primary language. If she assumed she was on Earth, she could be anywhere in the United North American States, or she could be in Europe, or even in Oceania. There was no way to tell until someone came by to see her, and even then, they might not have an accent for her to grip onto.
Anderson hadn’t had one himself despite being from London. She recalled him telling a story about how when he joined the Alliance, he’d worked to lose the accent so that he could rise in ranks. A bout of pain tore at her heart as she remembered her CO. He had lain next to her as he died, giving his last bit of good advice. He was definitely the best CO she’d ever had. It wasn’t fair for her to be alive and him dead. Of course, he probably would tell her otherwise. She could almost hear him now, telling her to get better and to...
“... be aware? I see you’re awake now, aren’t you?” Shepard’s eyes flicked to the source of the voice. No, that was impossible. She’d felt him die. He was right next to her when he passed, but she couldn’t deny what was right in front of her. David Anderson stood next to her hospital bed in full Alliance blues. He looked a few years younger, quite a few years at that, and not nearly as war weathered as the last time she saw him. The bars on his uniform identified him as a captain, not the admiral he had been when she last saw him. Something was off here. She made a vaguely affirmative sound to answer his question. “Good. It’s good to see that you’ve managed to wake up. I’ll go get the doctor.”
He went out the room the way he came in, and Shepard only just now noticed the door. She kept her eyes trained on it, waiting for Anderson’s return. She couldn’t be dreaming. David Anderson was alive, and somehow younger. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but at the least it meant she was in Alliance hands. That was better than being in the hands of any Cerberus remnants.
“I’m telling you, she’s awake, Karin. She shouldn’t have that tube in her any longer.” Anderson’s voice came from out the door, and it was getting closer.
“Is that your medical opinion, Captain
Anderson? Might I remind you who has been in medical school and who hasn’t? The girl was barely alive when you brought her in.” A familiar female voice answered her CO back and entered the room. Shepard couldn’t believe it, but Doctor Chakwas walked in through the room’s door. Well, she thought it was Doctor Chakwas. The woman who walked through the door sounded like her Medical Officer, but she had black hair and much smoother skin. It was as if the woman had lost a decade of her age. Still, if this was
Doctor Chakwas, she knew she couldn’t be in better hands.
“You know what I mean, and you’ll see it when you see her, Karin.” Anderson followed the younger Chakwas into the room, and Shepard ached to do something unprofessional. “See, there she is.”
Chakwas rushed over to Shepard’s side and brought up her omni-tool. “It would seem that her lungs have re-inflated, and her brain activity seems to have returned to normal. Miss, can you hear me?”
Shepard answered the question with a grunt. It was unsurprisingly hard to talk with a tube down your throat. It was, however, surprisingly unpainful to have it there. It must have been lined with medigel or some sort of anesthetic.
“My name is Doctor Karin Chakwas, You were brought in with several serious injuries, barely clinging to life and you have been in a coma for at least a week and a half. It appears that you may be able to breathe for yourself. I’d like to remove the tube from your throat so that we can have more of a conversation than one of grunts. However, if it looks like you’re having issues, I will have to intubate you again. There is a possible danger of suffocation with this. Do I have your permission to proceed?”
Shepard grunted in the affirmative. She wanted to be able to talk properly... and get a drink of water.
Chakwas nodded and prepared to remove the tube. “Please hold still, miss.”
Removing the tube from her throat was at best uncomfortable, but it was hardly worse than any of the injuries she had suffered prior to that. It definitely was not worse than dying of asphyxiation in the vacuum of space. Still, it was uncomfortable enough that once the tube was removed, she gasped for air for a few seconds as her body started regulating her breathing again. Shepard’s respiratory rhythm returned to what could be called normal after about thirty seconds, and she shook her head as Chakwas made to start putting the tube down her throat again.
“N-no... I’m fine. I can breathe.” Shepard said with a smile. “Thank you.”
“Well, Doctor Chakwas is the best doctor I know, and I’m glad to see that you’re alright now. “ Anderson began as he looked over Shepard.
“Captain Anderson, she’s not fully better yet. She’s still got a bit more healing to go through, but it will go faster now that she’s awake.” Chakwas scolded.
“Yes, but she’s at least able to talk to us now, which is more than we had before.” Anderson replied and then turned to Shepard. “So I suppose there are two major questions to ask. The first would be if you remember how you got injured.”
Shepard nodded. “And the second?”
Anderson’s face turned a bit grim. “The second is the most important. Who exactly are you?”
Shepard looked at Anderson incredulously and said, “That’s a joke, right?” Well, at least she attempted to, but what came out was more of a dry-mouthed gasp. Despite the IV pumping her full of fluid, she had a dry mouth from the removal of the tube.
Luckily Doctor Chakwas was nearby with a glass of water, which she put in front of Shepard with a straw at her mouth. “Drink slowly, and not too much, just enough to wet your throat.”
Shepard followed the doctor’s orders and cleared her throat. “That’s a joke, right? Asking who I am?”
Anderson shook his head. “When we brought you in, none of the usual identifiers identified you. You have no dental records, fingerprint records, nor do you have any DNA records on file. We’re still waiting for the extended results of your DNA scan to look for relatives, but the easiest way to find out about you is what you can tell us. So, who are you?”
Shepard blinked. That was definitely odd. She had no clue how something like that could have happened. “All right, sir. I am Commander Andrea Shepard, commanding officer of the SSV Normandy SR-2.” She then rattled off her service number. Anderson knew
her. He had to have.
“And your injuries?” Anderson prompted, his face stoic.
“I was injured fighting the Reaper forces in London when Harbinger destroyed a number of our convoys... and this sounds crazy to you.” Shepard said as her eyes locked with the Captain’s. “You have no clue who I am; you’re a captain instead of an admiral. You and Doctor Chakwas are younger than I remember you being. I don’t know what’s going on here.”
Anderson grimaced slightly. She knew she’d hit something on the head. “Miss Shepard, you are either a very good liar or you believe you’re telling the truth. There is a Lieutenant who has that service number, and his
name is Michael Shepard. He is currently serving on the SSV Dublin
under Commander Smith. I know this because Smith has given glowing reviews of his performance under pressure.”
Shepard pursed her lips. A man with her service number, one who was a Lieutenant... that just didn’t make any sense. “And the Normandy
Anderson shook his head. “There’s no ship with that designation in service at this time.”
Shepard struggled to find her voice as she asked, “What year is it?”
“It’s 2177, Miss Shepard.” Anderson answered.
Nine years. Somehow she had ended up back in time nine years. Not only that, but with the male Shepard on the Dublin
, she somehow ended up... This didn’t make sense to her. Still, she needed to roll with it. “Did you find anything with me?”
“A book, a broken omni-tool, an overloaded biotic amp, and a set of N7 armor that lends itself to your story.” Anderson answered. “But the armor isn’t one that is in service currently by the N7s, in fact, it has a bit more advanced a weave to it than the one currently in use. “
Shepard nodded. Her omni-tool and amp both had shorted out during Harbinger’s attack so she was left with her sidearm at the time, a Predator pistol. She was in no shape to be doing biotics without an amp after that, and she doubted that Anderson would provide her with one at the moment. She needed to build their trust. “I don’t suppose I can have my stuff...”
“The book, I can give you. The armor had to be torn apart to get you out of it... and I doubt you want the amp or omni-tool.” Anderson said.
“And there will be no use of biotics while you’re healing, missy.” Chakwas said. “While your implants are different from any I’ve seen before, I don’t want to have you getting hurt by using energy your body needs to heal.”
“Alright. I promise.” Shepard swore. “No biotics until I’m better. Which, how long should I have to wait for that, Doctor?”
“For a normal person with the injuries you came in with, I would have said that you would have a three to four month recovery time at the least, assuming that you recovered at all. However, you have recovered at a rate far exceeding any of my expectations, and it certainly isn’t just because of your age. Given the rate at which you’ve recovered so far... You have at least two more weeks of bed rest and then comes the physical therapy.” Shepard could always count on Doctor Chakwas for honesty.
“And during that time, we’ll talk more, Miss Shepard.” Anderson said. “And perhaps we’ll get the real story out of you then.”
“Please, sir. Either call me Andrea or Shepard. No Miss. I understand not calling me Commander with... Just call me Shepard.” She couldn’t believe she was pleading. She needed him to acknowledge this. Anderson was more than just a CO to her.
“Very well, Shepard. I should go.” Anderson headed out of the room, leaving Chakwas alone with her.
“Oh, Doctor, I forgot to ask, where are we?” Shepard turned her head.
“We’re on the SSV Tokyo
, heading to Arcturus Station.” Chakwas answered simply. “We found you at the L2 point off of Luna. Imagine our surprise when it turned out you were still alive.”
“Yeah, thanks...” She supposed it made sense. Chakwas mentioned serving with Anderson before, and maybe this was when it happened. “Why are we heading to Arcturus?”
“That’s not something I’m permitted to tell you at the moment, Shepard.” Chakwas did another scan of her body. “That may change. In the meantime, I will go retrieve your book and then I must perform the most arduous aspect of my job.”
Shepard raised an eyebrow. “Paperwork?”
Chakwas nodded in agreement.
Flesh... Bone... Bound together with the oddest magickal incantation. This wretched book is where it all began so long ago. Before time, before humanity. I am Doctor Edward Roivas. I am a clinical Psychologist. I am also dead. This is not my story, nor even the story of the Roivas family. It is the story of humanity. Like it or not, believe it or not as you will. Your perceptions will not change reality, but simply color it. Humanity has been on the edge of extinction for two millennia. Ignorant of so much, and dependent on so few. The guardians grow restless. Their time once again near. Whether by fate or misfortune, my family has crossed their path. And they didn’t take kindly to it.
Shepard looked up from her reading. This book certainly was odd. It pulsed, thrummed near her. As she read it, she could almost see what had happened. See those who had gone before. It had nothing to do with the Reapers, but somehow the information bound within it was just as valuable, just as important as what she knew of the Reapers. Her foreknowledge would only go so far. This version of the Milky Way was already different than her own. Here she didn’t exist; there was a man with her last name and service number. She turned back to her reading.
As I gazed up at the Ancient I had brought into this world to stop Pious’, my mistake was made clear. This Ancient could lay the world to ruin just as easily as Pious’ would have. And yet, as quickly as it began, it ended. To think, that once I could not see beyond the veil of our reality. To see those who dwell behind... I was once a fool.
Those that dwell behind the veil of reality, Shepard had no clue what that meant. But that rung with importance somehow. Something brought her here. To this place, to this time, with this book. She knew not what nor why, but she suspected it would reveal itself in time.
Shepard closed the book as Doctor Chakwas entered the room pushing a wheelchair. “I thought you might like a tour of the ship after being cooped up in here.”
“Please. I think even my cramps are getting cramps.” Shepard said with a smile. Chakwas came over and helped her into the chair.
“Let’s take you to get a bit presentable first.” Chakwas wheeled her toward the bathroom.
Once in the bathroom, Shepard looked herself in the mirror. Chakwas had buzzed her hair prior to treatment to help make sure she hadn’t had any brain damage or further brain injuries, and her hair had started to grow back. It was her natural dark red, and only about an inch and a half long at this point. However, that’s not what caught her attention in the mirror. Her scars had disappeared completely. As had the little wrinkles that she’d had gotten from worry. “Uh... Doctor Chakwas, when you examined me... did you find anything unusual?”
“Other than your biotic implants which are more advanced than I’ve seen, nothing. Aside from your injuries, you are a healthy young woman.” Chakwas commented.
Other than her implants, nothing was odd. Cerberus had reconstructed her using God knows what tech and cybernetics. Stuff like that didn’t just disappear, but somehow it had with her. With it gone, she should be dead on the ground, or floating in space, or whatever, but she wasn’t. Hell, she should be dead anyway, but she wasn’t. There was one thing that bugged her though.
“Doctor, how old would you say I am? Medically, I mean.” Shepard asked.
“Well, Andrea, from your body’s condition, you appear to be between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. I can’t get more precise than that. Lieutenant Shepard is twenty-three, before you ask.” Chakwas stated.
“Right. That’s the age I should be if he has the same birthday that I do.” Shepard sighed. This was too strange to handle alone. Thank God for Chakwas, even if she wasn’t her Chakwas. Shepard missed her crew though. Her friends were always there for her...
“Remember, Andrea, I am here to talk to when you need me.” Chakwas helped Shepard clean up a bit before wheeling her out.
As they were about to leave the clinic, the doctor’s omni-tool pinged, signifying an incoming message. She activated it and looked over the message. As she did so, her eyes flicked to Shepard in front of her. “It would seem that we’re going to be talking to Captain Anderson, Andrea. Your DNA scan results just came in.”
“Oh, and what did they say?” Shepard asked. “Did it say I’m not Andrea Shepard? Or is it something else?”
“I’ll tell you when we get to the captain, Andrea. No need to repeat this twice.” Chakwas then started pushing the chair out of the medbay.
was different from both versions of the Normandy
in that it was designed entirely by human hands. Where the Normandy
had sleek curves, the Tokyo had sharp edges and corners. The Tokyo also happened to be a small cruiser as opposed to the large frigate that the Normandy was. There were other differences that Shepard noticed too, but those were mostly in the crew department. This wasn’t her vessel. This wasn’t her crew.
Chakwas pushed Shepard into the elevator leading to the COC, where Anderson likely was. Shepard anticipated heading there, and she even looked forward to it. She hadn’t seen Anderson enough over the past few days. She understood his position, as she’d had to make calls like that herself, but that didn’t make it hurt less to know he was alive and not coming to see her.
When the elevator opened to reveal the COC, Anderson was clearly visible standing over the map, talking to someone to coordinate the relay jump, she was certain. Cruisers had slower FTL than the Normandy did, so it took longer for them to reach their destinations. Anderson finished up his conversation when he noticed their arrival and walked over to meet them halfway as Chakwas pushed Shepard into the room.
“Doctor Chakwas, Shepard, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Anderson greeted with a smile.
“Andrea’s DNA scan results have come in.” Doctor Chakwas started.
“And? What did they say?” Anderson prompted.
“While Andrea’s DNA does not directly match any profile that the Alliance board has on file, she has several genetic markers that match those of two members of the Alliance. One of which is Lieutenant Michael Shepard.”
“And the other?”
“Lieutenant Commander Hannah Shepard, Lieutenant Shepard’s mother.” Chakwas said. “The similar markers indicate familial relationship between the two and Andrea, likely that of a sibling with the Lieutenant, and filial with the Lieutenant Commander.”
Well, that was certainly something different. She hadn’t expected her DNA to be similar enough to Michael Shepard to be considered his sibling, let alone be related to his mother
. Her mother?
“I have a mother?” Shepard blurted out
Anderson left the command of the Tokyo
to his XO as he headed onto Arcturus Station. While the Alliance’s government center was no Citadel, the station was the peak of human engineering. At least it was at the time the station was constructed. Though well maintained, the station had been up since before the First Contact War, and it was here that he graduated from the N7 marine program. Yes, he had many fond memories of this station, and he suspected he would have even more in the future.
His current posting on the Tokyo
was definitely a test of his leadership capabilities, and other than the one oddity in finding a floating girl in space, it had been mostly peaceful thus far. Anderson wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the girl. When Pressly had brought her in, he was sure that the girl wouldn’t make it, but he had to have Chakwas try. It surprised everyone that the girl had started to recover, and when she woke up, she gave a further surprise.
When looking at her unconscious body, despite the hardsuit they’d found her in, he couldn’t see her as anything but a young woman, barely more than a teenager, but after she woke up, there was a hardness in her eyes that could only come from having seen combat. In addition, she carried herself like a marine who knew how to behave around a superior officer. The service number she rattled off with such precision belonged to someone who shared the last name she claimed. Andrea Shepard certainly was a mystery to him, but he didn’t think she was dangerous. Every instinct of his screamed to trust the girl, but protocol had him treating her as a civilian.
Anderson walked through the security checkpoint and flashed his ID. “Captain David Anderson.”
The private manning the security station saluted him after checking the ID properly. “Go on through, sir.”
He continued through the checkpoint and down the corridor leading to a conference room. Waiting in the conference room were two people, one of whom he recognized. The one he recognized was an older man with a scar on his right cheek running down toward his graying moustache. This was Rear Admiral Steven Hackett of the Fifth Fleet. The person he didn’t recognize was a red-haired woman approximately 1.7 meters tall. Judging from the bars on her blues, she was a Lieutenant Commander in the Alliance Navy.
Once he finished entering the conference room, he saluted Hackett. “Captain Anderson reporting, sir.”
Hackett smiled. “At ease, Anderson. Allow me to introduce Lieutenant Commander Hannah Shepard. She’ll be in on this meeting.”
“Of course. A pleasure to meet you, Commander.” Anderson offered a hand to her.
“The pleasure is mine, sir.” Hannah Shepard shook the proffered hand, and they both sat down.
The meeting itself went rather smoothly, Anderson thought. It was mostly a debrief about the latest tour of the Tokyo, which was meant to be a showing of presence to assure the colonists that the Alliance was there to protect them after the Blitz. In addition, it was used to do a bit of waving the flag on Earth, to attempt to gain some recruitment from their nations. From what he had heard afterward, recruitment had increased by three percent. It was when he got to explaining Andrea’s presence that the oddness popped up.
“So you’re saying that you found someone claiming to be my daughter?” Hannah Shepard asked.
Anderson shook his head. “No, we found someone whose DNA shows her as a filial relation of yours, but she was as surprised as you seem to be that you exist. From what she said, she grew up as an orphan on Earth.”
“And how old is she?” Hannah locked eyes with him, and if he were being honest, she shared the same eyes as Andrea. He could see the relation between the two women pretty easily.
“Doctor Chakwas says that she’s between eighteen and twenty-two years old. She couldn’t get more accurate than that. “This puts her born before the restrictions on gene modifications, but the strange thing is that she knew your son’s SN by heart. She rattled it off like it was her own.” Anderson didn’t dare to break the gaze. Commander Shepard would be the one to do that.
“I’d like to meet her, if I could. Even if I didn’t give birth to her, I would like to get to know her.” Shepard didn’t disappoint and Anderson nodded.
“I’d hoped you would say that. Admiral Hackett, she claims to have had N7 training, and we found her in N7 armor... I would like the opportunity to test her claims once she recovers.”
“Granted. We’ll have to find some story to give the officials to explain her origins, but if we can successful-“ Klaxons began to sound and alarm lights flashed.
Anderson stood up, and yelled over the alarms. “What’s going on?”
Hannah Shepard brought up her omni-tool and her eyes widened. “The station’s been infiltrated! We’re under attack!”
Shepard hadn’t been on Arcturus Station in a number of years, not since she graduated from the N7 program and was awarded her first posting. She’d fought tooth and nail to earn her placement, and when they’d put her on Elysium, she’d put her best foot forward. Then the Skyllian Blitz happened, and she’d been forced to rally the colonists against the invading batarian and pirate forces. Judging from the date, the Blitz happened the previous year here. She wondered if Michael Shepard did the same as her.
Arcturus hadn’t changed much from her memory. The corridors were neatly kept, and there were a few restaurants set up for visiting dignitaries or servicemen. Arcturus wasn’t nearly as populated as the Citadel, but there still were civilians working to make ends meet there.
Shepard would have preferred to be able to explore Arcturus alone, but she understood why Pressly had ordered that she be accompanied. Privates Jones and Harris had drawn the short straw to keep an eye on the potentially insane crippled woman. Neither was very talkative, nor did they help her wheel her chair. Of course, her chair movement issue was mostly her own fault. She wanted to prove how healed she was and it wasn’t like her arms were broken, so she wheeled herself.
She wheeled herself along like she knew where she was going, but in reality, it had been so long since she’d been here last that she had no clue. So, her first goal was to get a sense of the area. She didn’t know how long Anderson was going to be here, nor did she know whether he’d take her with him when he left. Too much was up in the air at the moment, but for now the Tokyo
was her home. As Shepard continued to wheel herself around, she noted the placement of various store fronts, along with the restaurants. She made a mental note to try one or two of them before she left, once she wasn’t using Doctor Chakwas’s credit chit. What she was planning at the moment though was to get herself a new omni-tool, and possibly a biotic amp.
As she passed another store front, she noticed that this one was closed without an explanation as to why. Something tingled at her senses as she rolled up to the doorway and peeked through the glass sliding door. The shop stood mostly empty, save for some tiny pieces of inventory. It looked like the shop had been abandoned for months, yet the storefront was polished as if it were only closed down this day. It was then that her eyes were drawn to the floor. What she had initially assumed were covered pieces of merchandise... weren’t.
“Jones, Harris, get over here and get this door open.” Shepard ordered in a tone that would brook no argument, and her two shadows followed the orders as if she were their CO. Jones tried the door first, finding it locked. He then pulled open his omni-tool to try and get the door open by hacking. After about ten seconds, when the door refused to open still, he pushed a button on his omni-tool and dispensed a bunch of omni-gel. He slapped that on the door and the lock shorted out. “God, I missed that. Hacking made easy, just use the gel skeleton key.”
Once the door opened, Shepard wheeled herself inside, flanked by her shadows. She examined the items on the ground closely when she approached. Yes, they weren’t merchandise. They were decayed bodies, desiccated to the point where the muscles and what was left of the skin clung to the bones. The bodies had obviously been there a while. “There’s no smell. There had to have been one at one point, but there isn’t now. Why is there no smell?”
Shepard glanced to Jones and Harris, as if asking them for input. Harris shrugged and Jones seemed to be looking anywhere but the bodies themselves. Shepard held back a scoff of disgust. Her crew would have commented or had ideas.
She wheeled herself further in. “We should report this to station security. They need to know about dead bodies showing up, especially ones this far gone.”
“Yes, ma’am. We should probably go right now.” Oh, so now, Jones speaks. The Caucasian man hadn’t much to say... and wait.
Shepard cocked her head and then grabbed the wheels of her wheelchair to steady them as the hallway rocked. “Get down!”
A half-second later the telltale boom of an explosion further rocked the storefront, blowing the glass windows inward. Luckily, Shepard had kept herself near one of the pillars. Harris was not so lucky, he took the brunt of the shockwave to his side, and it threw him to the ground, cracking the plates on his hardsuit. Jones was near enough to Shepard that he escaped the fate of his comrade.
Shepard swore under her breath. She didn’t remember hearing anything about Arcturus Station getting attacked the year after the Blitz when she did her service the first time around, which meant that this was something completely new, outside her foreknowledge. Lovely.
It spoke wonders for Shepard’s situational awareness that she had the time to move her wheelchair back three paces as the corpse she’d been looking at climbed to its feet. Unlike husks, there was no visible reason for these bodies to be standing up on their own. The only thing that indicated any sort of animation other than the movement was a soft green glow coming from the eyes of them. Shepard couldn’t help but recall something from the book she’d read. Corpses! Lumbering, rotting cadavers! What contrivance could have wrought this...this...this abomination?!?! Diseased science...?? Blasphemous occult rituals? How can something so...so dead, yet be so alive?!?! And hungry..! They lust for flesh...Human flesh...and feast upon all the sweetbreads a man has to offer!!
“That’s new.” Shepard glanced to Harris’s prone form. There! His sidearm. “Jones, aim for the head. Shoot until they fall.” Shepard wheeled herself toward Harris. “Keep out of their reach.”
Jones fired wildly at the walking dead, but at least he seemed to be hitting about half of his shots Shepard reached over the side of her wheel-chair and grabbed the sidearm Harris had been carrying. She checked its ammo block and took a look for spare heat sinks before realizing that this was one of the old style weapons. The heat sinks on this weren’t disposable, but instead they stayed with the weapon. When the weapon overheated, you had to wait for it to cool down before you could shoot again. Shepard wasn’t sure which system she preferred, but she was pretty sure the disposable heat sink manufacturers had something to do with why there were so many after Cerberus brought her back.
Of the three corpses that returned to their feet, Jones had nearly taken out one of them and the other two seemed remarkably untouched. Recalling her training, Shepard lined up the first pair of shots, two to the head with this Striker pistol would be enough to take a husk down. She fired four shots, two to each of the heads of the zombies there. The shaved bits of metal accelerated down the barrel of the pistol struck true, severing the heads of both corpses in an instant. To her surprise, the bodies remained standing, though the arms reached up to pat at the stump and they started to lumber at her. So she fired more shots into their torsos. The Striker may not have had the stopping power of the Carnifex, but it eventually did its job and both of Shepard’s targets fell at the same time Jones’s did.
Jones, however, kept firing at the zombies, over and over and over again. He ran up and fired at the corpses which were, oddly, writhing on the floor. After his gun finished overheating, Shepard raised an eyebrow as the bodies simply disappeared as if they were never there. While convenient, that made things a bit of a mess to explain to one’s superiors.
Jones dropped his gun to the ground and assumed a fetal position, rocking back and forth. “This isn’t real. It can’t be happening. This isn’t real. It can’t be happening...” The man was in hysterics.
Shepard rolled over to check Harris’s vitals, and after getting no pulse, she closed his eyes. This was going to be a bitch to explain. She rolled over to Jones, who continued his rocking. Shepard resisted the urge to roll her eyes, after all, it wasn’t every day that the dead walked and tried to eat you immediately after an explosion. Even if that had been her life for the past eight months.
“Jones.” Shepard placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Jones, listen to me. I know what happened here looks bad. Hell, I’m not even sure how to explain it myself, but it did
happen. We both saw it. However, zombies or not, those things didn’t look like they would be capable of setting a bomb which means there’s something else going on here.”
Jones focused on Shepard’s words. “Bomb...”
“Now, Harris is dead, and someone killed him. I’d like to find out who, but I need your help. If we’re about to enter a combat zone, I’m severely underdressed. I need you to get Harris’s barrier generator and hand it to me so I at least have some shields.” Shepard ordered.
Jones stopped his shaking and slowly got to his feet. He went to Harris’s body and picked up what he could from it. He’d stripped the man of his omni-tool, his shields, and it turned out that the man was a biotic, so Jones removed the amp. In addition, he grabbed Harris’s dogtags and handed everything to Shepard.
Shepard’s eyes lit up on seeing the amp. While there were minor things she could do without an amp, to do anything major required a lot of strain for very little effect. A biotic amp made things much easier to deal with. She was sorry that she was taking this from a dead man, but she needed it now, and he didn’t. She cleaned off the attaching port with her jeans and attached the amp to her own receiver. Though this amp wasn’t optimized for her implants, she could already feel it working as in addition to the kinetic barrier shields, she formed a biotic barrier around herself.
The situation wasn’t perfect, but she’d have to worry about that later. “Now Jones, let’s go find out where the bomb came from. Move out, soldier. “ After half a second, Shepard continued. “Also, please hold the door for me so I can wheel through.”
The next time Shepard had to go into a combat op in a wheelchair, she was so asking for a powered one.
Shepard kept her eyes peeled as Jones exited the storefront. After he gave the go ahead, she wheeled her way out the door and moved herself into a partially covered position. She looked down the corridor and internally grimaced. The bomb had decimated the hall, blowing out the entries to several storefronts. Corpses littered the way toward the center in varying degrees of damage. Disgusting. Shepard always hated to see the fallout of bombs, especially in a civilian area.
Further down the hall, Shepard spotted movement. Nine people dressed in hardsuits of a make she couldn’t quite place filed out of what seemed to be nowhere. They appeared in a flash of green light. The color of their hardsuits was a bright green, and it was obvious that they were human from the way the helmets were laid out. They spread out in the hall, with three heading toward the store she and Jones just left.
“Jones, I think we found our bad guys.” Shepard said as she wheeled herself into better cover. “Get ready, because I’m starting strong.”
The telltale blue aura of biotic use flared up around Shepard and she thrust a hand forward. A wave of warped gravity tore across the rubble of the hallway, kicking up dust as it headed toward the trio of troopers. Upon reaching them, the shockwave burst out, knocking them from their feet.
“We’ve got live ones! Requesting reinforcements...” One of the soldiers called out, his voice not bearing the distortion of a Cerberus trooper. This told Shepard that these were likely mercenaries... and then they opened fire. Shepard ducked behind her cover as the bullets started flying. Yes, she had a shield, but kinetic barriers could only withstand so much punishment before they started hitting what was underneath, and she hadn’t any medigel on her. While she could use a biotic powered barrier, that left some of her own abilities unavailable to her.
Jones returned fire from his own point in cover, his initial volley pinging off of the shields of his target, but their barriers must not have been too strong because his second volley made it through. Shepard used her own pistol to focus her fire on bringing the one enemy down, and after two more unshielded shots, he stopped moving.
One enemy rolled back onto his feet and waved his right hand. Shepard prepared to dodge some sort of biotic strike, but instead a quintet of green runes appeared on the floor around him.
Each rune lit up in order around the enemy, and Shepard swore she heard a female voice speaking. “Tier, Pargon, Aretak, Xel’lotath, Pargon...”
Then a green light spread from the runed circle and struck the corpses that laid strewn about the corridor. Shepard watched as the light washed over the corpses, forcing decay upon them, turning them green, and wrapping them in what looked like linens, partially mummifying them. And then the impossible happened: the corpses started to rise. This wasn’t right. None of it was. Neither the embalming salve of their wrappings, nor the numbness of death, could override the dominating madness that is Xel’lotath. Controlled... prodded into an existence by an incessant cacophony of voices, penetrating every level of their psyches, these corpses are coerced into life... Ambling.... Moaning..... SHRIEKING!
Shepard shook her head. These weren’t husks. Husks had visible cybernetics that were animating them, but they still were enemies.
“Jones! Shoot the controller! The guy in the back! Overload his shields and finish him!” Shepard ordered, snapping the private out of what looked to be a fear-induced pause. “I’ll deal with the zombies!”
Without waiting to see if Jones listened, Shepard used her biotics to roll out of cover and right herself on her wheelchair. Then, locking herself onto her initial target and performing her mental mnemonic, a biotic aura erupted around her and suddenly she rammed into one of the zombies, sending it flying. She fired a few shots at the next zombie while she rolled close, and then she pushed her chair off the ground and slammed into it, forcing her barrier and shields outward in a nova.
The force of this removed the upper half of four of the zombies nearby, but when Shepard looked, she was shocked to see a green phantom torso where the physical one was. Fortunately, those zombies still fell, and she charged into the next and repeated her actions. The zombies seemed to lack the reaction speed of husks which implied that whatever animated them hadn’t counted on biotics. That was a good thing. Even if seeing them stand like that was disturbing, they were killable.
While Shepard was busy, Jones had managed to follow orders. He used the Overload application on his omni-tool and an electrical burst struck the summoner head-on. He quickly followed with a volley of shots from his Avenger, and the enemy fell. Nice. Simple. Easy.
Shepard finished up her last Nova then Charge combination, killing the last pair of zombies and the remaining living enemy, and she felt a jolt of static from her neck. Shepard reached up and popped the biotic amp from its slot and took a look. Gray smoke wafted up from the amp indicating a burnt out fuse. She cursed under her breath. She hadn’t meant to burn out the amp, but luckily it was fixable. The wheelchair, however, was not. The biotic abilities she’d used had warped the metal of the wheels, bending them outward and the axle down in a V shape.
Shepard shook her head. No choice then. “Jones! You okay over there?”
“Y-yes... ma’am!” Jones made his way over to her wheelchair. “Wh-who?” Jones’s face paled and he grabbed at his head. He swung his hands around wildly, dropping his weapon “My...”
Great. The kid was freaking out. She couldn’t tell where he was, but he wasn’t here. “Jones! Jones. Listen to my voice. Whatever you’re seeing? Whatever your mind is showing you? It isn’t real. It isn’t really happening. Got that? Repeat it for me. This isn’t really happening.”
Jones seemed to be able to hear her, and he tried. “This.... isn’t... really... happening....”
“Again, Jones. Focus on what’s real.” Shepard ordered.
“This... isn’t... really happening!” Jones seemed to come back to himself. “Ma’am....”
Shepard looked around. “Normally, in an event like this, I’d be sending you for a psych eval, but we don’t have time for that right now. Arcturus Station is under attack by unknown entities. Possibly cultists of some sort. They weren’t organized enough to be mercenaries.”
Jones nodded. “I’m with you, Ma’am.”
“Good, now help me out of this chair.” Shepard ordered as she attempted to stand up. Jones supported her weight as she found her balance. Shepard breathed out at the pain of using her legs after however long she was off of them. Normally this was something one was supposed to work towards with recovery, but she didn’t have time for it. She’d force herself through this one.
Cultists attacking Arcturus. She was fairly certain that didn’t happen in 2177 when she was doing her tour after the Blitz. It would have made the news, and she didn’t hear about it. That meant this was something new. Something different from her foreknowledge was happening.
“Let’s move on.” Shepard ordered, and the pair continued down the hall. Jones was no Alenko, nor was he a Williams, but he was what she had at the moment. If he stuck around, she’d break him in. Otherwise, this would probably be something he would rather forget. Cultists summoning zombies seemed to be something impossible. She could work out mentally how husks were formed; she’d seen it for herself. It was something with nanomachines and Reaper indoctrination, but this... this went beyond the pale. This was beyond what was real. Something that lurked behind.
What had her worried though was how easy it was. If the cultists were able to get on Arcturus and plant a bomb the way they had, why had they only sent the trio after her and Jones? Where was this backup they’d asked for? If it was the zombies, they were almost pathetically easy to kill compared to husks. Then Shepard heard a pair of loud, echoing roars, and the bodies of three Alliance Marines flew from a hall that led to Command and splattered against the wall.
“I hate it when I’m right.” Shepard gestured for Jones to follow and she took off toward the roars.
Author’s Notes: Why cross these two series? Because I’m a major fan of both of them and the Reapers needed a much better reason to exist than the Leviathans were over-arrogant and thus created something to stop synthetics from killing organics. Initially, the Reapers were kinda-sorta Mecha-Cthulhu, and I thought that having them being created in response to an actual Great Old One type being would be appropriate. The three colors of the ME3 ending choices also fit with the color scheme for Chattur’gha (Red, Destroy), Ulyaoth (Blue, Control) and Xel’lotath (Green, Synthesis/Insane option). If you haven’t played Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, I recommend watching a Let’s Play of it; the game is excellent. If you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend playing it.
Until the next chapter...