Chapter 1 - Rebirth
The first sensation was pain. He couldn’t really put it into words, as one sufficed: everywhere. His limbs were aflame, muscles screaming, flesh prickling against cold air. The feel of drifting grit and the smell of smoke and charred flesh.
The second sensation was was realisation: that he was what smelled of smoked meat.
The third sensation was that he was alive. His memory was a blur - a white, transparent being, offering guidance. His bleary understanding, visualising through blood loss and several broken bones. His rejection as he saw through the lie.
We Are Your Salvation Through Destruction
The pistol, heavy in his hand as he had pointed at the pipes, the sensation of movement behind him - the lunging, rotting form of a huskified Illusive Man lurching at him. The impact and those glowing yellow eyes amidst a face of blue-electric veins, the creature’s lurch through the holographic “child”. He had felt himself twist, the flash of agony spasming muscles as he had leveraged the sudden assault. He had seen the creature fly past, its own momentum inexorable. He had seen it impact the beam. The arcs of white light and the sudden impact of erupting mass effect fields - the Citadel and Crucible firing. The scream of denial and frustration and fear from a thousand age-old abominations across the stars as their final ploy had failed. The feedback of one of their own falling into a galactic-band transmitter.
He had felt it, it his mind - the scrabbling grey-blue of the indoctrinated, their voices, seeing through this what they really were. The horror causing thousands of starships of gestalt, dissolved organics to cease their denial of their true nature and to truly see.
The explosions of a thousand ageless entities committing suicide. Billions of voices shrieking in anguish and despair and relief.
And now pain. The rubble crushing his leg and the dusty air choking his lungs.
Pain but also peace.
And now a fourth sensation - movement. Rubble dragged from him, causing new symphonies of agony across his ruined form. Voices, barely recognisable and at the edge of hearing. Crying. The light streaming across blurred vision as he was moved. And slowly, ever slowly, the all encompassing blackness of oblivion.
They watched him. Countless faces. Some ruined and bleeding, others angry and confused. At their front, Chief Williams, her eye accusing. As he watched, her face distorted, her complexion taking on a grey-blue pallor, her eyes sinking into her skull, melting as blue optics forced their way through. Blue cables pushed to the surface of her skin, replacing veins and muscle. The mockery of humanity snarled and lunged.
He jolted forwards, beeping echoing in his ears, the crackle of machinery and the hiss of a pump. He hacked and scrabbled as he realised something was obscuring his throat. Bodily he pulled the pipe from his mouth, vomiting as it cleared his lips. There was a loud, insistent noise, some form of alert? His vision blurred as figures crowded around him. He saw the frill-crest of a Marauder and lashed out, catching the thing a strike across a metal mandible. An arm slammed across his chest and he focused on a humanoid shape. He flailed against the husk, the machine noises and clicks overwhelming the senses. Beyond them he heard shouts and cries, which formed themselves into words.
“...hold him steady…”
“Get me that damn sedative…”
“Are you sure? We want to knock him out? After all this time…”
“...aw hell, by mandible, think he cracked it…”
“..us Christ he’s strong…”
He flailed again, but weakly this time, his breaths coming ragged. He saw something approach, holding a hypo, which he knocked aside. He managed a breath and forced the words out.
“Where… am… I?”
The pressure subsided. The figures still maintained a gentle pressure on him, but there was a cautious pause. His vision began to clear, but his eyes hurt like hell. Focus returned, slowly, showing the figures around him: A turian, clad in a white coat, nursing his cheek, two humans, holding his arms, and an Asari. It was the blue woman who spoke first.
“Do you remember your name?”
She spoke slowly, careful, as one would to a child. He felt a flash of irritation, but it subsided quickly.
“John Shepard, Commander Alliance Navy, Spectre. Number 25145597.”
Reapers didn’t interrogate; indoctrinated might, but there was a caution there, a shock that could be seen clear in her face. He decided to ask again.
“Where. Am. I.”
The Asari stepped away from him and buzzed a comm near the door - now his vision was back he could make out details - a hospital room, or similar - all clean white with holographic displays and medical equipment.
Quite a lot of medical equipment.
He heard the Asari speak again.
“Get me Admiral Hackett. He’s awake.”
Shepard’s voice was a dull monotone. Admiral Hackett, to his credit, didn’t waver. He offered a short nod.
“Eleven months? What the hell.”
“You were in a bad way, Commander. We were lucky to have Miranda on site. Had to pull another Lazarus, near as dammit. The Krogan strike teams were doing clear-outs of any remaining Reaper ground forces, found you in the rubble near the spire. Managed to get you out of that field hospital and onto the SSV Orizba.”
His mother’s ship. Shepard managed a staggered, unsteady breath.
Hackett managed a grin. “She damn near demanded you be placed on board. Still going strong Commander. She said she’d be along after this.”
The Admiral sighed - he appeared to sag a little, looking smaller as he leaned against the wall. Such a public display of weariness shocked Shepard. He narrowed his eyes, but didn’t speak.
“It’s been chaos, Commander. It took us six months to reactivate the relay. Whatever you did knocked them for six. The Comm-buoys were part fried as well, meaning getting in contact with other parts of the galaxy has been difficult at best. By some miracle everything has held together. But we’ve got bickering starting already - Salarians threatening to strike Tuchanka, Turians threatening reprisals on the Asari for hiding the beacon on Thessia. Hell, the Quarians even declared the veil a no-fly zone for citadel races until the Council has reformed and is willing to negotiate. And with the Geth backing them up, that’s a dangerous powder keg.”
Shepard watched the Admiral, but said nothing. At this stage it all sounded like so much white noise. He’d done what he set out to do - stop the Reapers. This… this was politics.
“And to cap it all off, we’ve got to get a new Council elected, whilst dealing with the pirates and separatists from here to the Terminus System.” The Admiral caught Shepard’s querying look and grinned, quite a disconcerting expression, “No, the Council wasn’t killed, surprisingly - most of the Citadel population survived, even with the Crucible firing. They were told to step down by their governments. A ‘Failure to anticipate the threat and act on information received.’ Some justice in the Universe after all.”
Shepard chuckled, despite himself. He leant his head back against the wall and adjusted his seating position, before focusing on the admiral again. When he spoke, he was surprised at the hesitation in his voice
“And my crew?”
Hackett blew out another sigh.
“They’re alive. Lawson’s here, just outside actually. Lieutenant Commander Taylor is currently acting as liaison to the various science teams salvaging the Citadel. Commander Alenko is on Council business. Joker’s flying him out on the Normandy - T’Soni and Vega are with him.”
The admiral leaned forwards from the wall and looked at the floor.
“The non-Alliance or human team members… well, they’re all alive Shepard. Right now, I couldn’t tell you where they are. But,” he held up a hand as he saw Shepard lean forwards to speak, “I will find out for you. I think General Vakarian has departed the Sol system with the majority of Turian fleet and the Primarch. The Krogan are leaving as well. Urdnot Wrex was invaluable. The Quarians left about two months ago, as soon as the Relay began working again. I’ll get my staff to prep files, to bring you up to speed.”
Shepard sat there, slightly numb. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting: a crowd outside his hospital room? A three fingered hand clasping his? A permanent, silent peace from a death well-served? He managed to nod an affirmation, but there appeared to be something else on the Admiral’s mind.
“Truth be told Shepard, you being alive is… awkward.”
That shot home. The Commander tensed and tilted his head and managed a nervous chuckle.
“Awkward, Admiral? Do I owe back taxes?”
Hackett managed a snort of a laugh.
“If only it was so simple. No, Shepard, the issue is that, well, officially, you were declared dead five months ago. You were initial a John Doe in a military field hospital, assumed to be one of the hundreds of N7s we had in London at the time. Your crew… well, aside from Lawson…. they think you’re MIA.” The Admiral massaged the bridge of his nose and Shepard saw how gaunt the man was looking, perhaps for the first time. The senior officer sighed and continued, “And, politically, your death helped. Martyrdom does a lot to unify people. It’s clean. Defined. Makes people rally round. We’re going to have to announce your revival carefully. So, I’d ask for discretion approaching your team, please. The politicians are going to be begging to parade you or demanding your head as a scapegoat.”
He saw Shepard’s confused face.
“Oh trust me - the Salarians are gunning for us. Protests about the Krogan, some even blaming you personally for not killing the Reapers sooner. That’s all directed at the Council at the moment… the former Council. But you… everyone will be watching you. You carry weight, your opinion will matter Commander. And God knows you’ve earned some peace. So, I want to be careful.”
Shepard nodded slowly, still processing it all. His head still felt pretty woozy, but he managed a tired retort.
“For a second there Admiral I was expecting you to ask me to go space myself.”
“After spending all this time getting you better? I’m not Alliance procurement, Shepard. Anyway, this is going to be a lot to take in. I’ll get you the dossiers. Though I imagine T’Soni’ll be in touch before I’m halfway down the corridor. Damn useful woman.”
Hackett straightened from his leaning position and struck a smart salute.
“And for what it’s worth Shepard: damn fine job. We’ll try to clear up the mess. get some rest, soldier.”
The Commander blinked and nodded, managing a smile. He returned the salute, albeit less crisply than his superior, the IV drip causing some issues. But the sincerity was there. He watched Hackett leave and sank back into the bed, staring at nothing.
So. They’d won. Peace across the galaxy - for the most part.
And what now? Truth be told, he’d felt his stomach twist when he heard - his crew were alive: good. But they had scattered. And the Quarians had left? His heart beat echoed through him, pounding in his head as he screwed his eyes shut. She thought he was dead. Eleven months.
The door slid open again and he opened his eyes. Another navy blue uniform. Another admiral’s tabs. But the face wasn’t as stoic as Hackett’s. Hannah Shepard made it two steady paces into the room before nearly falling onto her son, arms wrapping around his neck, tears coming freely.