~ Stanza 1· The Departure of the SSV Normandy ~
Above the warmth of air we rise
Through the frosty turbulent skies
To where the blaze of heat and light
Clashes with black in the roofless heights.
Our ship is new, her lines are clean
The crew is eager to fly
Before us is Space, the seen and unseen
In the untold depths of the sky.
We leave Earth behind – we’re out past the moon.
We turn the ship’s prow from the Sun’s golden noon
And sail, sail away more fleet than a ray
Of that glorious, brilliant, ancient day.
We’re embarked on our vessel’s maiden flight,
Her first dive to the deep night’s sea.
A shakedown run for the young prototype,
The stealth frigate Normandy.
She’s set for a colony claimed by mankind
Renowned for its beauty, called Eden Prime.
I’ve worked on the moon and I’ve put by on Mars.
I’ve walked other planets, around distant stars
My boot has marked lands where no human has dwelt
I’ve trained among alien asteroid belts
From my youth starships have been my home.
And they still are now that I am grown.
For proudly I tread where my parents trod
An Alliance marine, before man, before God.
For ten years I’ve guarded and fought and served
And many have heard the name Rosamund Shepard.
But though I’ve seen much in my thirty-years time
I’ve never set foot on fair Eden Prime.
Pluto the frozen looms up and goes by,
We’ve dropped out of light speed. The Mass Relay’s nigh.
I tread the command deck up to the bridge.
The Relay’s ahead; it pulses, glows
A huge black curve and a whirligig
Spinning, spinning, juxtaposed
Across the speckled field of night
Swiftly drawing huger, near.
Work of an ancient massive might.
The stations call. ‘All go! We’re clear!’
And the Normandy dives to the light.
~ Stanza 2 · The Pilot, the Co-pilot, and the Council-Spectre ~
A billion miles from our former place
We come to rest in the calm of space.
Off the bow is sweet riot of black and light.
From the bow, gulfs of glory blaze clear to my sight.
The constellations are different from here.
Greater the bright Milky Way appears.
Far off there burns a sparkle of green,
Eden Prime reflecting an alien sun’s beams.
Joker, the pilot, leans back in his chair
With a smug little grin and a triumphant flair.
Beside me stands a tall grim Turian.
Nihlus he’s called, a rust faced alien,
A member of an allied race
And an agent of the Council of civilized space.
I’m accounted tall, for a daughter of men
But I stand barely up to his mandibled chin.
Armour sheathes his wasp-like waist
His face is covered in natural plates
Which are splashed with war-paint in bold white stripes
And jab back from his temples in sword-like spikes.
He reported to the captain while we were ashore.
But I’ve not been told why a Spectre’s on board.
He nods at the pilot magnanimously.
‘That was quite good for a relay leap.
It will please your captain.’
He turns and goes.
His footfalls fade to mere echoes,
Joker grumbles and mutters:
‘I hate that guy.’
And turns to the helm, his fuzzy face wry.
The co-pilot beside him, Lieutenant Alenko
(A marine like myself; dark-haired, sturdy fellow)
Glances up from his work from the second helm station.
‘Nihlus gave you a compliment, so … you hate him?’
I hear the two of them debating our guest,
Only half listening, my mind’s on our quest.
And my eyes are on the green sparkle ahead.
Though Joker has left what Nihlus said,
(That leap was “incredible” not just “good”)
And has now declared the guy’s up-to-no-good.
He doesn’t trust Turians or those agents the Spectres
And elaborates this in a portent projecture.
While Alenko counters we have no sound reason
To accuse the stern Nihlus of ill-will or treason.
(The Turians helped us design this new frigate.
And Citadel Council would of course ask to see it.)
Over the com, a deep voice is heard:
‘Commander Rosamund Shepard?’
I hear my Captain call my name,
Anderson, my father’s friend, of great and well won fame.
His voice is serious, almost grim
As he summons me down to speak with him.
I wonder aloud whence comes his gravity,
The source is more than I can see.
The pilot shrugs and resettles his hat.
‘Oh, Captain Anderson? He just sounds like that.’
Alenko half smiles, I hear him aver:
‘That’s just when he’s talking to you, Joker.’
~ Stanza 3 · Distress Call ~
Down in the com-room, Nihlus stands alone
A strange and fearsome figure, clothed in living bone.
He turns to greet me with words smooth and fair,
Hissing through his lipless mouth, in the quiet air.
Mere light pleasantries his speech seems to be,
Small inquiries and praise o’er the Eden Prime colony.
But his manner is probing, of what I can’t tell.
Not of that colony. I don’t know it well.
He turns to another; Elysium,
And the day when Batarian pirates had come.
It’s me that he’s probing. That day is well known.
I was there. I rallied resistance alone
And led colony’s folk in defence.
Til the Alliance sent reinforcements.
But what significance does the tale hold for Nihlus?
He is coolly but quite clearly curious.
As we converse he watches appraisingly.
I wonder, what must a Turian see?
I am called beautiful among my own race
Stalwart of bearing, fine-featured of face.
But to Nihlus, how shelless my pale skin must seem
How little beside him, and stocky, I deem.
How strange my soft curtain of short crimson hair
Must look to a head so horny and bare.
As we speak, firm steps sound down the corridor.
Captain David Anderson strides in the door.
His strong frame is tall, his brown face is dark.
On his blue uniform, bright medals spark.
A red stripe runs down to his wrist from his shoulder,
The uniform mark of an N7 soldier,
The toughest within the Alliance Fleet.
I too wear the stripe, though I’ve not yet his feats.
He tells me our shakedown run’s only a cover.
The SSV Normandy’s been sent to recover
An intact Prothean beacon from Eden Prime.
No greater discovery’s been made in our time.
‘Its big, Shepard, big. Most seen for many lives.
There’s been none bigger since the Mars archives.’
What this might do for our technology…’
Now Nihlus’s presence is clear to me.
The Protheans were an an alien race
Whose crumbling monuments are seen across space
The first humans found were those archives on Mars
Through them we learned how to fly to the stars
With the mass effect principle which draws on dark energy
By sending a calculate stream of electricity
Through element zero, a substance strange
Which seems to exist between the two planes.
And thus for a little, a lot is returned
And greatly less fuel does a ship have to burn
To accelerate up past the speed of light.
Thus the Protheans taught us FTL flight.
(This element’s a fair but a dangerous thing
Many have died from its touch.
And yet, when it imprints on young human cells
It teaches them that which it knows itself
Those that live can themselves do as much.
The mass effect principle in living form
Biotics they call them. Thus, was I born.)
Some Prothean relics in deep space lurk.
They say that the whole Relay system’s their work.
And built of the same massive workmanship
Is the great Citadel where the Council sits.
But rarely we find ought else intact.
A working com beacon? I’ve not heard of that.
Of course the Council sent out a Spectre
He’s here to protect it. It’s quite past conjecture.
Over the com speakers, Joker’s voice chimes.
‘Captain! Com-link from Eden Prime!’
On the opposite wall a screen lights up.
In the quiet room gunfire erupts.
A man is shouting they’re under attack.
He stumbles and falls and does not come back.
Now only sky can we see on the screen,
Red turbulent clouds like I’ve never seen.
And darkly through them, like a great fingered hand
There reaches a shape grasping out toward the land.
Nihlus, the captain, and I breathless watch
As it slides through the sky.
The signal is lost.
‘Well’ says Anderson, ‘this changes things.
Suit up, Commander! Let your feet grow wings.
I will summon Alenko and Jenkins.
Heaven and Earth – what was that thing?’
~ Stanza 4 · Colony Approach ~
Armoured in black, gloved, booted, and armed
I report to the bay to the sound of alarms.
Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko – he from the bridge,
In quiet stone green armour
And eager Rich Jenkins – worked-up just a smidge,
Swinging a rifle on his shoulder,
Are ready; two sturdy, bold Marines.
We three make a standard Alliance recon-team.
Jenkins once lived here, some years before
And scarce seems to believe that below there is war.
He’s anxious to get there and join in the fight
Yet he seems too buoyant, too sure its alright.
We’re coming in close for the door opens in.
The captain raises his voice o’er the wind,
Tells us where to find the beacon dig-site
And tells to get there, go not left nor right.
‘But what about survivors, Captain?’
Alenko’s rough voice calls the question.
‘That beacon is your top priority!
It must not fall to the hands of an enemy!
I’ve sent for help. It will here soon.
Get in. Stay low. And secure that beacon.
It’s probably the target. Understood?’
‘Yes, Sir!’ I say.
I know full well that should
A foe be the one to gain the new knowledge
All of our colonies would lose an edge.
‘Approaching the drop zone!’ Joker tells us.
‘Hey, Nihlus!’ calls Jenkins ‘You coming with us?’
Out of the shadows the Turian comes,
With a feline grace. He shoulders his gun.
‘I move faster alone.’ he says.
And is gone,
Empty and bare is the hatch he stood on.
The Normandy’s slowed and swooped down low.
My squad leaps out to the ground below.
~ Stanza 5 · Death in Eden Prime ~
She’s gone, and we stand in a vast and lovely land.
Below us stretch away rich rolling ploughed lands.
Behind us rough crags, red in the low light
Rise up crowned with leaves, to steep, lofty height.
A sharp distant bark of crackling gunfire
Shatters the evening, makes the calm scene a liar.
Our prototype stealth ship swooped quietly
Under the ridge, dropped us off in the valley
Away from the gaze of enemy eyes
And whatever that was looming large in the skies.
But just over the ridge, just out of our sight
Lies the colony centre, and a terrible fight.
Quickly we climb through bramble and tree.
I look to the skies, but no dark shape I see.
As we pass through a green and mossy dell
A large form moves, which I cannot see well.
It floats from the brush, a lumpish grey mass.
Two of us startle, but Jenkins laughs.
‘They call ‘em “gas-bags”. They aren’t any harm.’
I lower the gun I have raised in alarm.
He’s right, the thing ambles – or drifts – right by.
Scarcely noticing we three passers-by.
Still chuckling he trots ahead, to the next bend.
And he goes.
We hear the air rend.
We seize our weapons, break into a run,
Dash to the corner. But we see no one.
In the air, by a ledge, a tiny globe hovers
Dipping and whirring, behind follow others.
We let loose a volley of gunfire pale.
We lash and we hurl them across the steep vale,
With forces unleashed from our empty hands
In streams of blue light, fierce swift-streaking strands,
Seizing the drones in strong scintillating fields
Biting right through the shell of their shields.
For Alenko and I are biotics both
And we throw down the drones to the undergrowth.
Their blasts fly about us, some find a mark.
Hot plasma against my biotic field sparks.
Though I stagger beneath the force of the blow,
I am untouched, protected below.
When the last globe burns and falls to the ground.
We call out for Jenkins and look all around.
At the foot of the slope lies a silent form, grey
We reach for our omni-tools, run down, and assay
To render him aid. But he’s far and gone.
Red is the stony bank he lies on.
Alenko stares down at the man on the rock
His white face is filled with what seems to be shock.
I know that ere now he’s seen battle and war
But his voice has grown smaller than it was before.
‘He didn’t have time to put up his shields.
He hadn’t a chance!’
Life’s blood soaks the field.
‘Sometimes soldiers die. You have to go on.’
I seek to rouse him, we have to be gone.
He nods, mumbles ‘Yes, Ma’am’, and raises his head.
We stow our omni-tools and leave the dead.
~ Stanza 6 · The Gunnery-Chief ~
Onward, quickly, the dig-site is near.
Distant crashing and shouting and gunfire I hear.
Then close, through a thicket, harsh shots ring out.
Gleaming steel figures leap all about.
A lone human woman, swift, pink, and white,
Is running and shooting in outnumbered fight.
Without a word we abandon the path.
Through brambles and briars and boulders we crash.
Strange vining plants tangle round ankles and heads
Alenko rips free and plows on ahead.
For a moment I see him burning blue
Hear the crack of his gun, see his shots fire true.
See the light from his hands hurl the Geth to the cliffs
And then I’m beside him. The outcome is swift.
The lone woman turns to us, panting and worn,
Her tall form is straight, her armour is torn.
She thanks us in tones both martial and warm
Her face speaks of woes she’s had no time to mourn.
Her enemies scattered about on the ground,
Are robotic bipedals, lean as bloodhounds.
Those long curving heads … I recognize “Geth”.
I’ve never met one, but I know they bring death.
They’ve never been seen out in human space,
And why they’re here now in this quiet place…
I turn to the woman, her story is brief.
‘My name’s Ashley Williams, Gunnery-Chief.
My unit is dead, wiped out by the Geth.
They’re here coming after our beacon, I bet.
Well, I’m after it too! It’s just to the south.’
She’s calm and collected, I see she has nous.
~ Stanza 7 · The Prothean Dig Site ~
We three go on, to the lip of a dell,
A deep rounded hollow, it’s paths travelled well.
Down at the dig-site, the sun’s ray are gone
And the darkness of evening is quite far along.
The gleam and clang of a swift metal body
Slick sterilized white, shiny and gaudy,
And a Geth and more move in the shadow and stones.
The tread of their feet is like breaking of bones.
Alenko’s bright omnitool flashes,
Overloading their circuitry
His gleaming biotic force lashes
The Geth at velocity.
Williams is not a biotic
But boy can she handle a gun!
Deadly and sharp, far beyond quick
Quick and knows which way to run
My biotic warp fields crumble the Geth
Had they been alive, they would now know death.
Unliving, unbreathing, insensate steel!
They do not live so they can’t die … or feel.
We came on them swiftly from out of the dusk
We saw them plain, but they never saw us.
They fall in the twilight down on rugged stone
And we three marines are left here alone.
We look for the beacon, but see it not.
We spread out grimly and search through the spot.
‘It was here. Been moved. By us I hope.’
Williams calls out from low on the slope.
Nihlus calls me over the com.
He thinks it’s been moved and may not be gone,
But rather conveyed to the near-by space-port,
Prepared for the Normandy’s awaited report.
He says he’ll be waiting at a tram nearby,
Tells us to be ready, but doesn’t say why.
~ Stanza 8 · The Valley of the Shadow of Death ~
Back out of the hollow, into the sun,
We take the main path from the site at a run.
Around the bend and down an avenue
The valley and sky open up to our view.
‘What is that?!’
Hanging above the broad verdant vale
As big as the ridge where we stand on the trail
Gleaming and flashing long arms of black
Sending out lightning across its huge back
Is the distant dark shape I saw in the sky.
It looms o’er the world, all’s darkened thereby.
It’s fingers or tentacles reach toward the ground.
The air is filled with a terrible sound.
‘That is the biggest ship I’ve ever seen!’
Williams exclaims as we leave the ravine.
But is it a ship?
Alenko asked well.
It’s more like a creature.
Come up out of Hell.
Down the hillside out on the plain,
Buildings and roads cross o’er the terrain.
I see the tram station, like Nihlus said,
But I see no one living – yet many dead.
One gunshot rings out. One. Close at hand.
No answer follows. A car leaves the tram.
We start down the slope, I see movement below
Dim figures running, no loping – No …
I cannot believe what I’m seeing here.
My companions’ eyes have grown large with fear.
These are humans, were humans, are not anymore.
What devilry’s been here? What act of war…?
The things swarm up the hillside, blind objects thrown
Unnaturally, without will of their own,
Stumbling and lurching … and searching, I’m sure.
They crash into our cover, and we see what they’re for.
I call ‘Open fire!’ with pity and dread.
And the three of us mow down the horde of the dead.
We’ve no words to say. What can there be said?
But I stop, ere we go, to make sure that the dead
Are cold and mere corpses and not something worse.
It’s not. They were dead. It’s a tactic perverse.
The blackness hangs still in the sky like a curse.
~ Stanza 9 · Betrayed ~
We go on. Down the slope. To the station below.
Farther down into this valley of woe.
The station seems emptied of even the dead
Silent and lifeless, I hope some have fled!
‘Nihlus!’ I call.
My voices echoes unanswered.
The Spectre comes not, and says not a word.
But near the tram, a lone figure lies,
A Turian, armoured in familiar guise.
Alenko goes to him, but we’ve come too late.
He was shot from behind, close quarters. Checkmate.
What out-spectred a Spectre? So close yet no doubt?
‘Look there! Something’s moving!’ Williams calls out.
A man, living, breathing, has appeared near the rail.
There’s something yet living in this dreadful vale!
‘The other one killed him.’
Says he who’s alive.
‘Did you see what happened! How did you survive?’
‘Well I was sleeping, or, catching a nap
Where the boss couldn’t see me, back there in the gap.
When the real fighting started, well, I just stayed back.’
‘So you lived because you’re a coward and slack!’
Williams’ voice pierces the heavy red air.
The man shrinks away from the blaze of her stare.
I look at her, bearing the marks of her fight
Faced down alone, with her sole, single might.
And I think of the fellows that she’s left behind,
And I do not wonder her tone is unkind.
But I am just glad to see some have survived
If he has lived here, there’s many alive.
‘And what of the Turian, who has killed him?’
‘The other one; kinda tall, pale grey, and grim.
I think he knew him, he called him by name.
This one was all tense and ready to aim
Then he saw the other, and seemed to relax
Then they were talking and he turned his back.
He shot him, I don’t know, don’t ask me why.
Then he took off on the tram really spry.’
‘What name did he call him? What did you hear?’
‘Oh, let me think here.
Saren, I think, no wait, I’m quite sure.
Saren Arc-something-or-other he were.
A really big fella, the colour of tin
With mean beady eyes, look out for him!’
~ Stanza 10 · Saren’s Command ~
We leave him and Nihlus and take the tram,
Out into the valley and over a dam,
Across broad green meadows and past walls of cream.
They said it was beautiful, it’s like a dream.
A dream and yet a nightmare beneath.
I see none of its folk but the Gunnery-Chief.
She stands beside me, stoic and grim,
No tears in her dark eyes or on her tanned skin.
Others live, surely, in hiding or flight
But I see no signs of still active fight.
And still in the clouds, broods the evil black thing
And through the air still, I hear that dull ring.
Far on the platform, I see white figures moving,
Not men, they’re Geth. I can’t tell what they’re doing.
Yet among them I see a lone living creature
It’s too far to make out specifics of feature
But he is Turian. That much is clear.
He strides right among them without hint of fear
And directs like a master or an overseer.
He’s gone before the tram comes near.
We give the Geth battle, those few who remain.
As we retake the platform I see in a drain,
A cylinder, blatantly out of place.
It’s little lights blink at a very fast pace.
I duck out of the firing, next to the drain.
An explosive, fit to light up the plain.
‘Lieutenant!’ I call.
Alenko ducks down.
I see that he sees what it is I have found.
‘Can you disarm it?’
He nods and takes over.
Williams and I stand by and give cover.
Whole precious moments slip by as he works.
Most Geth have pulled off, but still a few lurk
Near corners and ledges sniping at will.
I’m surprised that they’re hanging around here still.
‘Got it, Commander! This one’s disarmed.’
‘There’s four, synced together and armed.
We’ve got minutes to find them, we have to move now!
I’ve got leads on them, we’ll get them somehow.’
~ Stanza 11 · Battle of the Space Port ~
We run through deserted, sun-lit ramparts,
After the signal his omni-tool charts.
The beacon’s forgotten, or nearly so,
I guess it is now in the hands of the foe.
Yet the colony still can be partly saved,
There’s people alive here, where roads are paved.
And many more farther, out in the rural lands.
But these huge bombs will turn meadows to sands.
The plains, and the ridges, the sweet mossy dells
Infernos will crumble them into a hell.
We disarm two more, but we’re searching too long!
Then, on a causeway we’re running along
We see farther down, where the last bomb lies,
It’s little lights blinking like small evil eyes.
The Geth rise up from behind the bulwarks,
The heat of their bolts turns concrete to sparks.
We gain ground, too slowly, dodging cover to cover.
Enough! Lose this chance and we get no other!
I strengthen my barrier and charge down the road,
The two marines at my side.
We clash with the Geth. They crash and explode.
Our shields shudder but they stem the tide.
We drive our foes back and duck into cover
Right near the explosive, our strength near over.
Beside me stands Williams. We hold the Geth back,
Alenko’s crouched down and turned his green back
On the battle beside him, the fury and fire
Working as though he did not hear their ire.
His brown fingers flash and his omni-tool whirs.
Over his set brow his dark hair is stirred
By the wind that throws up the dust from the fray.
Hurls it in our eyes and throws it away.
Williams’ assault-rifle and my shotgun
Cry out like mad hounds in the fast sinking sun.
‘It’s done!’He leaps up, and hurls blue at the foe.
The moments tick by, but the bombs do not blow.
It’s the Geth that collapse, they fall, move no more.
Just then I notice, I don’t hear the roar.
The sky has grown clear. The blackness is gone.
It’s only the soft red of sunset – halcyon.
~ Stanza 12 · The Beacon ~
We head back through the space-port, searching the platforms
Though the beacon must surely have long since been borne
Away in the hands of the marauding Geth
Must surely now be in that black hulk of death.
And yet, on a deck, a tall pillar stands,
As if, untouched by enemy hands,
It sits unhurt, and waiting for us,
Humming and greenly luminous.
It is the beacon. Williams confirms it
But she is puzzled, it didn’t emit
A light or a sound when it was first found.
Before it sat quiet and still on the ground.
Like polar aurora, pulsing, singing
The light dances up its cone, emblazoning
Dark steel with flickering green, mesmerizing.
The sound seems to grow, a low murmuring.
I shrug, turn away, and open my com,
To call to the Captain that all is now calm.
Alenko still watches as I pass by,
Strong curiosity in his brown eyes.
The thing is lovely, strange, and old.
For this, he has fought and Jenkins lies cold.
I contact the ship, get Joker on-line,
Tell him the beacon still seems to be fine.
Movement catches my notice-
He struggles as though in a strong under-tow.
It’s dragging him towards the glimmering beacon
Seizing him fiercely, he seems to be weakened.
Over the deck, towards the beacon, toward him
I dash and I shout, the light has grown dim.
His planted heels slip and his hands find no grip.
The humming grows louder. His booted feet trip.
I leap and I grasp him. The beacon grasps me.
A moment I wrangle, then hurl him free.
He falls safe to the deck, crumples down to the ground.
But the beacon still drags me, it twists me around.
Glimmering, shimmering – it won’t let go.
My feet leave the ground, I seem to be falling
Darkening, thundering – cruel shrieks of woe
Though them I hear my two comrades calling:
He cries. She shouts:
The sounds of their struggle fade from my ears.
Sights fill my eyes like the shooting of spears.
Fire and darkness. Silence and screams.
Foreign eyes sparkless. Death swarms in reams.
Shattering, blackening, gathering dark.
Light flickers feeble, crush of the spark.
Faltering, smouldering, perishing, gone.
Raging untrammelled. Dark steals the dawn.
Dimly I know that I’m still in the air
Above a space dock on an evening fair.
But this blast seems quite real, not like before.
I’m thrown to the deck and I know no more.
Canto 2 ~ The Citadel ⇒
Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent