Deviantart Showcase November 2016: ‘Exploring’

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In the bright and often garish and trivial world of Mass Effect fanart, Shalizeh’s beautiful painting both stands out … and sticks around, long after others are forgotten.  Here is no climactic moment, no, nor moment of passion or triumph.  It is a quiet moment.  The type of moment which could be easily forgotten in an hour’s time by some, but treasured forever by others.  It’s very quietness is part of its beauty.  Amidst the great deeds and high passions of the futuristic epic, the beauty and glory of the story world itself is sometimes overlooked – not by the story, to be sure, but by those who experience it.  But artwork like this pierces deeper into it, draws us further into that glory, than the story initially did itself, not only for it’s own beauty, but that it reminds us (or at any rate, reminds me) to do the same myself.  Paintings like this Explore the wonders of the story itself, just as the characters within it explore world.

And simply as a portrayal of the theme ‘exploration’ it is magnificent.  It is very wisely that Shalizeh has laced the bright world in mist, now revealing, now concealing in brightness the unknown world before them, now dropping it away into the shadow entirely.  Yet far from being a meaningless haze, the bright glimpses are sharp and clear behind their veils.  The closer one looks, the more real the distant hillsides seem to be.  A harsh world, true.  Not a world of men.  The living creatures hide behind their life-saving masks, not exposing their faces to the hostile wind which drifts the sand across their boots.  And yet a bright and glorious world all the same.  They do not stand huddled together, nor facing onward with dogged displeasure.  Wrex stares out across the valley.  Tali meanders almost dreamily towards the rising sun (for rising it looks as though it must be).  We cannot see what Shepard is looking at, but she gazes forward with her head held high, looking out on the vistas beyond out view.  It is not a world of men, but it doesn’t have to be.  Most of the universe is not.  For how many millennia have the sands drifted across that slope and never once been touched by a living foot till now?  How many times has that sun risen, and never once been seen by living eyes?

As one looks out into the valley and across the rugged foothills beyond, tracing their ridges and gullies up to the peaks and the bright sky beyond (and indeed, one could do this for a while) one notices numerous small imperfections almost, across the land and sky.  Is that a twin planet?  Or a moon?  Or is it much nearer, between us and the sky?  I don’t know whether it was intended or not – but when I gaze at the picture long enough I seem to be looking through a mask, as though I too were standing there on that alien hillside with them.  And I wonder whose eyes I looking through.

Though I don’t know whether this was meant or not, I find it a most pleasing way to look into the picture.  The only difficulty is that one then feels one should be able to turn one’s head.  And of course, one can’t.

In the blaze of the light one scarcely sees them at first, but above are the stars from which they came, still visible though the thin atmosphere in the low morning light.  Even in the brightness of the sunlight the vast cold heights of space seem very near.  And so they are.  In a short time, these explorers will be gone again, back into space.  And this distant valley will be as it was before.

In all, this is one of the richest and subtlest Mass Effect works it has been my pleasure to see.  Thank-you, Shalizeh, for sharing it with us.

Fan-art Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent
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Severus Snape and James Potter – A Hero and a Jerk?

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Warning! Humongous Spoilers! Don’t proceed if you don’t know the story!

It is, I have noticed, not terribly uncommon among the readers of Harry Potter to characterize Severus Snape solely as a hero – on account of his arduous, painful, and extremely important work in defeating Voldemort, and James Potter as merely a lousy, no-good, jerk – on account of his teenage tendency to bully people (especially Snape). I consider this an overly simplistic take on two complex and fascinating characters.

Firstly, if by ‘hero’, you mean someone who was fighting valiantly on the good guys side – who was seeking to bring Voldemort down, taking orders from Dumbledore, working with the Order of the Phoenix, trying to protect Harry Potter, and such things, then James Potter qualifies just as well as Severus Snape. In fact, he qualifies better, since he always was on that side, and Snape switched to the ‘good side’.

Now there is no denying that James Potter truly was a terrible jerk. His teenage behaviour to Severus Snape was inexcusable, there is no question about that. Lily, the woman who was later to become his wife, hated him at the time because of it. His son became sick at the thought of it. His dearest friend, who shared his guilt, could not, as a responsible adult, deny he did wrong. James was cruel, and he was – as Snape so often liked to point out to James’ far more innocent and sensible son – extremely arrogant.

But what was Severus Snape? He was wronged yes, abused yes. But he was no innocent victim. He too behaved badly as a school child. And I am not merely referring to the fact that he was clearly every bit as willing to hex James as James was to hex him. (Severus Snape invented the infamous levicorpus. I can’t help but wonder who its first victim was.) I am referring to the fact that he behaved so badly, or at least sought out the company of people who behaved so badly, that Lily, his best friend, seemed to fear that he was getting mixed up in things worse than even the hated James. “Evil, Sev.” she called it. Neither boy, not James, nor Severus, was innocent.

And then let’s fast forward a few years. Where are James and Severus, themen? Severus Snape, once Lily Evan’s close friend, is now a death eater, fighting and spying for Voldemort. It looks like Lily’s concern was justified. And James? The hated James? That stinker, that incomprehensible jerk? James is married to the Lily who once hated him.

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How did this shocking development come about? I think we can rule out right off the bat the terrible solution which occurred to his son in the first pangs of disillusionment. There is no evidence that Lily married him unwillingly. Indeed, from the manner in which the couple was of spoken of by those who knew them, from the little snippets we see of their short time together, I’m going to venture a guess that they were a very happy couple. But the gentle Lily of their school-hood could never have been happy married to the mean James of that time. Therefore, either Lily ceased to care about being nice … or James became a lot nicer. I turn in disdain from the first suggestion. The answer is obvious. There is no evidence for so repulsive a hypothesis, and very much against. So I believe that we are left with the conclusion that James matured into someone Lily could love. Sirius Black did indeed state right out that James’ furious feud with Snape personally did continue in some manner or another right up into the beginning of his relationship with Lily … but Lily wasn’t stupid. I think that the conclusion that James the man was a much better person than James the boy is a sound one.

The available evidence seems to back up this hypothesis. James’ co-partner in boy-hood crime, the wild and reckless Sirius Black, was not a bad man. He was a good man in a flawed and human way. James’ death was clearly deeply grieved by genuinely decent and good hearted people, (Hagrid and McGonagal for instance). And Harry never suspected the dark blot on his father’s boy-hood until he saw it with his own eyes, for it does not seem that his name generally carried that mark. Severus Snape apparently never saw James as anything except the bully of chapter twenty-eight/book 5 and perhaps it would be asking a lot to expect him to. But that did not seem to be the general impression that the adult James left upon everyone else.

Nor even altogether the boy James. I do not here refer to Sirius’ insistence that “lot’s of people are idiots at fifteen … he was a good person …” which seemed too much like an ashamed but affectionate party uncomfortably attempting to defend a beloved but guilty party. No, I refer to something more specific. Snape liked to scoff at it, sneer at it, pretend it was nothing. But Lily and Dumbledore did not scoff. I mean of course the unfortunate instance in which young Sirius so idiotically told Snape how to get into the Whomping Willow passage. Snape insisted to others that James was only saving hisown neck. This was not true. If Snape had been killed by Sirius’ idiocy, Sirius and Remus would probably have been in trouble. But not James, because (for once) he was guiltless. And yet, he risked death at the hands of a friend, to save an enemy. He hated that boy, he was willing to abuse and humiliate him every chance he got … but he was also willing to risk his own life to protect him.

7814ac5ff65a473c96ac5ddf6a08bb0fWait a minute! … Sound familiar? It should, because it could just as easily have applied … to Snape himself. Whatever else he may have been, for good or ill, Severus Snape was a downright stinker. He did not physically abuse his students (it was Hogwarts under Dumbledore), but he never hesitated to insult, humiliate, and inconvenience those he disliked when he had the chance. Now, admittedly, he had excuses. He was a terribly, morbidly unhappy man; living all those years with a broken heart and a bleeding conscience. And he was naturally predisposed to hate Harry Potter, little James look-alike whose birth lead to Lily’s death! But these excuses do not excuse his behaviour. He hated far too much, he hated so much that he never even knew Harry at all, he was forever hating a phantom James which seemed to completely obscure the real boy. And his behaviour to the utterly innocent Neville was without good excuse. However unjust it may be to hate someone for their father and for having been born, it is even more unreasonable to hate them for their date of birth. Yet hate him he did, so much that the thing which thirteen year old Neville found most frightening was his Potions teacher. James, it appears, grew up. All those years later, Severus Snape was still bullying school-boys.

 I should like to take a moment and address a related issue which I have come across from time to time. It has been alleged that Lily Evans did wrong to Snape by noEllie Darcey-Aldent accepting his apology after calling her mudblood. The allegation has some reason behind it. We all should forgive everyone who wrongs us, no matter how badly. But I can’t help but feel that those making the allegation are missing what was actually going on. Snape had been becoming something very bad. He had been consciously and knowingly associating with the death-eater sympathizers, allowing their ideas, words, and goals to become his. Lily tried to stop him, to persuade him to not go down that path. But he went anyway. She stayed by her friend for a long while – probably hoping that he’d eventually grow out of it. Well he didn’t. He let himself slip farther away from her into the death-eater mindset. When he finally called her mudblood, it washttps://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/f4/94/a5/f494a53032b0015819f863ebbc409914.jpg not a particular specific injury which could be just put behind them – it was the audible, public expression of what he was allowing himself to become. Yes, he was sorry! Yes, he would have called the words back if he could have. But the problem was that that act was only a symptom. He went and apologized – deeply, sincerely – for the act. But (as I understand it) it wasn’t the individual act that Lily was really so upset about. He was apologizing for the symptom, when what was grieving her was the disease. So she broke ties. And who can blame her? She could not be the close associate of the person he was becoming. Now, we all know that he eventually did turn over that new leaf, make that about-turn that Lily had been so long campaigning for … but it took her death (as a direct result of his actions) to do it.

I think that part of the reason that we are left feeling Snape to be solely a hero, and James merely a jerk, is the backlash factor.

James is Harry Potter’s father … the man who everyone always compares to Harry, who died fighting Voldemort, the dead hero, the unknown but beloved father – who is abruptly revealed to have been a very flawed teen, capable of nastiness which utterly shocks his more kind-hearted son. The whole old image is dashed to pieces. We, and Harry, are horrified not just because of what he was, but because we had expected something so different. In the shock of disillusionment, it is easy to forget that the things we knew before were true too, and instead of recognizing him as a complex, flawed human being, capable of evil as well as of good, we find it easy to just reclassify him into the jerk box.

And Snape? For all of Harry’s schooling, Snape is the jerk. He hates Harry, and quickly teaches Harry to hate him. He is rude. He causes inconvenience whenever possible. He is to be avoided, because he always causes trouble. In fact, Harry’s never even sure whether he’s really trustworthy … whether he’s really a traitor and a spy or not. He hates Harry’s godfather. He hates Harry’s favourite professor. He hates Harry’s dead father. He hates Harry. He hates and hates and hates. Then he murders Dumbledore. That is it. Our mind is set. Snape, the traitor, Snape, the death-eater – how did everyone not see it all along! Then … our mental image is stood on its head. The villain we thought we knew is gone. The man we thought was only hate … is revealed to have been acting, for years, for the sake not of power but love. It is a narrow love, but love; a love for which he gave up his ambitions, worked with those he hated, and laboured long in great danger. We discover that nothing was quite as it seemed. That on that fateful night on top of the tower, it was Snape who was the wronged one; Dumbledore caused his own death, and Snape was the unhappy instrument. That so many of the things we blamed him for were done on Dumbledore’s orders. That his very brutality towards George was an accident perpetrated in an attempt to save a man that we hated him for hating. That he, Severus Snape, was the unknown helper in the forest. That protecting Harry for his mother’s sake, has been his highest priority for sixteen years.

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And we are shocked. We see for the first time, his heroism, his staunch bravery, his unwavering dedication to many of the same goals as Harry. And we applaud him. We forget that his faults were real too; that he has honestly and truly been cruel to everyone for years, that his love, while deep and unshakable, is narrow, hemmed in by oceans of hatred, that even in his attempt to do good … he still did much wrong. And in our amazement, we move him out of the traitor category, into the hero category.

‘But Snape was a hero!’ you say. Well, so he was, poor man, and it would be a hard heart that could spare him no sympathy … but he was also a jerk. ‘James was a jerk!’ you continue. Regrettably and undeniably he was … but he was also a hero. My intention is not to vilify Severus Snape and praise James Potter, but to point out that the two of them are not so easily classified as is sometimes done, but are complex and multifaceted characters, with strange similarities an well as differences; both worthy of both praise and blame. Both of them were brave … and both of them were bullies. They both hated unreasonably … and they both loved deeply.

Harry Potter Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

The Song of the Shepard: Canto 2 ~ The Citadel

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⇐ Canto 1  ~ © Bioware  ~  Introduction
~ Stanza 1 · In the Med-bay ~

I hear the engine’s whirring baritone
The prim Doctor Chakwas’ languid tones
Softly stepping people, going to and fro
A hoarse, gentle voice, which sounds like Alenko.
Through the gripping miasma of black,
Light starts to glow, and I struggle back.
The Normandy’s left Eden Prime behind.
We’re coursing through vast star-fields of sunshine.
The Alliance relief force made it there
And we left the colony in their care.
This fearful matter calls us away.
Geth have not been seen in many a day,
And ‘Sarin’, that Turian, who murdered Nihlus,
Who fought with the Geth in their horrible violence
Appears to be Saren Arturius
Another Spectre – a collegue of Nihlus.
No other ‘Sarin’ would Nihlus welcome,
Or let him do what it seems he has done,
The witness described him quite reasonably
The Council must know of his treachery.
And what of the beacon? Our mission there?
It’s gone. Overloaded. Mere dust on the air.
The second voice was indeed Kaidan Alenko.
He’s standing nearby, his eyes wide, voice low.
‘I … got too close, let myself get submersed.
The chief and I thought you were dead at first.’
For a moment the loss of so great a find
Weighs it’s great failure over my mind.
But I remember the light on the vale
And I cannot consider my team to have failed.
I nod. ‘Thanks for getting me back to the ship.’
He nods back, a faint smile appears on his lip.
‘The chief’, Ashley Williams, has been transferred aboard.
With Jenkins lost, we need more hands on board.
Alenko spoke well to the Captain of her.
He’s right, she is a remarkable soldier.
The two weary and grieved marines carried me
Back through the port to the Normandy.
And she didn’t set foot back on Eden Prime.
Her unit is gone, they transferred her quick-time.

~ Stanza 2 · Close Council ~

Anderson shortly strides into the bay.
‘How is our XO, Doc? Is she up today?’
We hold council together, the Captain and I.
We speak of the raid, of the hand in the sky.
And he asks a terrible question of me.
‘The beacon, Commander – what did you see?’
I bow my head, I remember too well,
But … not well enough, it’s too strange to tell.
A tangle of horrors storms in my brain.
But not vague. Ice clear. It’s like I’m not sane.
‘I saw synthetics, and what seemed wraiths of men.
Slaughtering people … butchering them.’
The words seem so small and formless and cold
Sick, petty horrors, not the great force that rolled
Over all, wiping out, turning to black
All trace of the light – the world on the rack.
The Prothean beacons stored information
That’s what it gave me in terrible form.
A warning? Of what then? We do not know.
More like a record of war long ago.
Here, in the now, we have been attacked,
A senseless massacre, a pointless act.
What would the Geth want on Eden Prime?
They took not the beacon, and left no sign
Of interest in anything there but death,
And that with heedless, wanton, zealousness.
Yet they may indeed have read the beacon.
As I did unknowingly without seeking.
What good to them would monstrous visions be?
What good to anyone, such sights to see?
Anderson posits his theory to me.
Saren thinks men a blight on the galaxy.
This attack was an act of war.
He wants to kill men. And he will kill more.
With an army of Geth at his command,
No colony now is safe from his hand.
But still it’s that beacon that fills up my mind.
I can’t just dismiss it and put it behind.

~ Stanza 3 · The First Contact War ~

When first man left the Charon Relay
Forging forward into space
We sailed unfettered along the way
Exploring every place
And opening up all relays we found
Surging onward in leaps and bounds
In a gleeful, boundless race.
‘Til a Turian vessel found us at work
At an unknown fast shut relay
And in a moment foolishness
They did not bid us stay
Teach us the reasons, ask us never more
To open a door and let terror and war
Loose where our homeworlds lay.
Instead a rash captain called an attack.
Of course, we at once struck violently back.
In the stretches of space our starships clashed
Then on Shanxti colony the Turians lashed.
At the might of their coming the defence was unmanned.
They surrendered, they fell to Turian hands
Our reprisal was swift and fierce and hard
Every vessel from out of the yards
Every marine and every spaceman
Bore down on the fields of Shanxti again.
And the Alliance banner was raised once more
Over hills and homes ravaged by fire and war.
The Council stepped in and arbitrated
A treaty of piece, and peace was created.
Now my generation never saw
A time when the treaty was not law.
On the high Citadel our Embassy sits
Beside the great Council Hall.
It is their duty to listen to this.
They will hear of our folk and their fall.

~ Stanza 4 · The Lieutenant ~

The Med-bay opens to a central Hall,
Low ceilinged, warm-lit, and pleasant withal.
The Mess can be found there, and so can too
Many an off-duty band of the crew.
Alenko is there when I leave the bay.
As I go to pass by him, I hear him say:
‘I’m glad that you’re up and about now, Ma’am.’
So I turn aside to speak with the man.
The vision hangs like a sword o’er my head
And the fearful attack, the swarms of the dead…
I welcome the sight of the kind, open face,
The soft-spoken words as we two retrace
The strange path we tread but hours ago,
Speak of his friend left behind, and the foe,
Of our fathers who both served long years ago,
Talk shop, we’re biotics, and share what we know,
Speak, of this beautiful, perilous, dark, and aglow
Galaxy we’ve only started know.

~ Stanza 5 · Into the Serpent Nebula ~

The Normandy’s swift, far swifter than light.
On our own drive core we outpace in flight,
The beams of the stars, the Milkyway’s blaze
We leave them behind and fly past their rays.
She takes the final mass relay
But days from the battle, though so far away.
We burst on vista of lavender light.
The great Serpent Nebula’s glowing alight
With the blazing of stars in their infancy
Young starlets and white, old vapours and bright
Radiant purple transparency.
Wreathed in the mists of this wavering cloud
Floats a vast silver structure, ancient and proud.
From a huge central ring, five wings fly out
Long, smooth, and curved, revolving about.
We skim through the billows, plunge through the veils
Towards this, the Citadel, rich of old tales.
From the Bridge where I, with my ground team, stand,
Prepared to disembark, as soon as we land,
I see the vast arms sliding by, ships in flight,
And one mammoth vessel of beauty and might,
A fleck beside it, is the Normandy
A gnat beside a monarch of the sea.
‘Look at that monster!’
Williams cries
A light of delight shining bright in her eyes.
‘She’s the Ascension. Asari flagship.’
Alenko supplies. I hear Joker quip
Something about its guns and its size.
But I see she is graceful, like our fair allies.
Yet she’s nothing like so large, not nearly,
As was the dark shape which hung over the valley.

~ Stanza 6 · Aboard the Presidium ~

We dock aboard the Presidium Ring
And walk among trees and fountains that sing.
Its like a deep canyon; a lake runs below
And above, the young sun-stars shine white as snow.
Along leafy terraces and through lofty halls,
Anderson leads us three, past waterfalls.
Around us are Turians, fierce and tall
The froggy Salarians, lithe and small
Asari star-women, blue and fair
And aliens stranger – their sounds fill the air.
Through the bud in my ear their words filter through
In translated syllables lucid and true.
‘I can’t tell the aliens from the animals.’
Williams remarks in an undertone drawl.
I glance over annoyed at this discourtesy
But she looks back quite innocently.
Great monuments stand alongside the streams.
There many a hero of old wars gleams.
Krogans, rough hewn, and lovely Asari
Stand tall beside many an alien tree.
And one, a mass relay, stands all alone
In a bed of white flowers, just freshly blown.
Alenko seems to be struck by it somehow.
It’s only a statue, doesn’t work anyhow.
Yet he stops and listens – where I can hear naught
Neither can Williams. It’s mere steel fine-wrought.
Far up in an office, high o’er the lake,
Earth’s Ambassador, Udina, awaits;
A surly, beetle-browed, frustrated man
Grumbling as loudly as grumble he can.
He’s displeased with the Citadel Council.
He’s displeased at the sight of us three.
He’s displeased with the state of the hearings.
And he’s displeased especially with me.
The colony attacked, the beacon destroyed…
Pure, wretched disaster, quite unalloyed.
They were considering you for a Spectre, see?
Now what this will do to your candidacy-’
Spectres are the Council’s most elite agents;
“Special Tactics and Reconnaisance.”
No human has ever been named in their ranks
Despite the schemes of political think-tanks.
Yet Nihlus, it seems, put forward my name.
It was partly for this on our shakedown he came,
To look after the beacon, but study me too
The ranks of the Spectres have always been few.
No wonder Udina’s so wroth and so red.
The beacon is lost and that hope is sped.

~ Stanza 7 · The Council ~

In the domed Council courtyard of warm rosy hue
Dressed in Citadel Security blue
We meet a young Turian, bright-eyed and trim,
His name is Garrus Vakarian,
An investigator assigned to the case.
He speaks with fury of this blot on his race
nd expresses frustration he’s had no more time
To build a good case o’er this heinous crime.
‘Saren’s a Turian. Why so eager?’
‘For justice! He’s guilty. I see that quite clear!’
The Citadel Council is made up of three
Salarian, Turian, and Asari.
Each stands for their race in this ancient place
The political meeting ground of Milky-Way space.
The Ambassador’s fears prove justified.
The councillors list not to his diatribe
Against their great agent, their Spectre bold
Not on such evidence as we have told.
They regret the attack, but they will not blame him.
They call it a raid on the council-space rim.
Saren is not even present and there.
He attends as a hologram standing on air
And scoffs at the word of a single dock-worker
Especially such an obvious shirker.
The Citadel Council will not disavow.
They’ve had other false accusations ere now.

~ Stanza 8 · Searching for Leads ~

Initial dismissal stops not our case.
We reconnoitre and pick up the pace.
If we believe truly, and he has gone rogue,
There’ll be other matters wherein it is told.
From here on the Citadel we can well reach
Numerous networks and search for a breach
In Saren’s cover and catch him in speech,
When he slipped up, or when overreached.
Many leads we follow up, many trails of facts we search,
Through the record’s sordid tales, look for things that do not work,
Combing, combing, finding out, little tips and hints that lurk,
Digging, digging, turning up, making contacts in the murk.
We pick up the trail of a Quarian girl
Of whom a ‘Shadow Broker’ agent heard
She called on C-Sec shortly since
With a claim to have damning evidence
‘Gainst an unnamed spectre who had done ill
But the cop on duty wrote her off as a shill.
Following sightings and news reports
My team heads to a clinic, down in the wards.
It’s more like a space station here below,
Clean and bright still, but no sunlight like snow.
With slow plodding steps the Elcor move
On their four trunk-like limbs, while silent and smooth
The strange Hanar people glide by in the air
Like aerial jellyfish, and, here and there
We see in the passages straight human forms.
And sometimes a keeper, six-legged and forlorn.
No word do these speak, and they never look up
Just trudge along with steps oddly abrupt.
They call them the keepers, for they keep this place
Like a strange, taciturn, dwindled janitor race.

~ Stanza 9 · In the Clinic ~

The clinic seems to be closed at first
But the door is unlocked. The latch is burst.
Thus clearly invited, we slip inside
Soft down a hall, to a room low and wide.
A doctor struggles in a gunman’s grasp,
His voice shouts threats with the sound of a rasp
But not to her and not to us.
Another is here, beyond in the dusk.
The captor’s gun’s in the doctor’s face.
I hear her breathing loud with fear
I shout and he looks for a moment’s space.
A rifle cries out sharp and near.
‘Fancy seeing you here, Shepard.
Thanks for the distraction.’
The gunman falls to the floor of the ward.
And out steps Garrus Vakarian.
The doctor’s alright, just shaken and bruised,
The gunman had asked, and she had refused
To tell tales of a Quarian who’d sought help from her
But she’s glad to tell lawful investigators.
Vakarian’s too, is on the Quarian’s trail.
He cannot believe how bad C-Sec failed.
The doctor well remembers the girl,
A young thing; enviro-suit purple with swirls.
Her wounds were light, but she seemed in danger,
And asked the doctor of the Shadow Broker.
An odd question that, but the doctor knew
Of a nearby agent, who she sent her to,
A local bar owner, named Amos Fist.
We check on him through the agent we know.
Yes, Fist was, a while ago
But now a Spectre connection exists….
We go at once, the girl is in peril.
She’s gone straight to Saren and may well be killed.
With us comes eager Garrus Vakarian.
He’s done with C-Sec. But not done with Saren.

~ Stanza 10 · Battle in the Wards ~

Garrus knows where this ‘Fist’ can be found
And swift leads us thither, he knows well these grounds,
To seedier places, and dim lit halls,
Far from the sound of the bright waterfalls,
To a back-end nightclub, closed and locked.
He stops at the door, and briskly knocks.
Perhaps we four look too military.
Perhaps our approach is far too scary.
But rather than asking us what we want
Or pretending there’s nobody left at this haunt,
They throw open the doors and gunfire flies.
We have to take cover and dodge to the sides.
We demand to see Fist, but they do not heed.
We fear that they’ve done some dreadful misdeed.
Through the door, to the dance floor, and over the counters
We fight past the armed thugs and big Krogan bouncers.
Even the janitors stand in our path
But they choose to take our advice not our wrath.
Vakarian notes my tack with surprise
‘ “Get a new job”? Well! Smooth improvise.’
Deep in the dark of the back-room office,
We find the hiding miserable Fist,
He thinks his time’s up, expects only death,
And pleads out surrender in quaking breath.
‘We’re not here to kill you. Call off your thugs!’
He sends them off from his place on the rug.
The Quarian came here, not to long ago,
He set up a meeting for her to sell info,
But, she won’t meet the Broker’s men
Those waiting there are assassins of Saren.
With any luck, we’ll re-catch this guy later.
But time is short. The girl is in danger.
We take the swiftest path we can
And reach the appointed dark dead end.
We quietly creep along the way
Listening to movement some ways away.
A young voice speaks, high-pitched, somehow canned.
‘Where is the Shadow Broker?’
The voice demands.
The answer is low and we cannot hear.
‘No. The deal’s off.’
The young voice holds no fear.
But weapons are drawn and flash in the dark.
Vakarian’s bullet is right on the mark.
The skirmish is brief. The assassins are few.
They had not expected me and my crew.
The girl comports herself well, and holds her ground.
She’s used to handling herself from the sound.
But when they’re gone, she thanks us the same
Putting her own naivete to blame.
Tali Zorah Na’rayya’s her name when we ask.
Her face hides behind a dark purple mask.
She hears our story of Saren and strife
‘Why then, I can thank you for saving my life.’
She recently encountered a troupe of Geth
Took down several, and escaped the rest.
She salvaged data from one’s memory banks
It was partly burned out and mostly blank
But she found a recording worth digging for,
Proud gloating words, heard just days before.

~ Stanza 11 · The Reapers ~

The checks are all run, the voice test bears out
The data’s combed back, origins check out.
The speaker is Saren, the listener Geth
Recorded but hours past the colonist’s deaths.
‘Eden Prime was a major victory.’
– His voice is filled with a terrible glee –
‘We’re one step closer to finding it.
One step closer to the Conduit.’
Then another voice, mellow and deeper:
‘And closer to the return of the Reapers.’
Reapers? Her voice, so low and so smooth
Crawls through my nerves, and I cannot but choose
That a sharp deadly chill takes ahold in my breast.
It reminds me of something – but I can’t see the rest.
As far as Tali can tell from Geth lore
The ‘Reapers’ fought in an ancient war.
Great terrible beings, nature unknown,
Who wiped out the Protheans, left crumbled stone,
The long silent beacon looms in my mind
The complete devastation, end of the line….
What is this conduit? None of us know.
Nor have our networks an answer to show.
He was there for the beacon, I am sure now.
And he read it, as I did, and understood it somehow.

~ Stanza 12 · Spectre ~

Back to the Council, we take his foul words
It’s been substantiated. This time we’re heard.
But Saren ignores the formal summons
He breaks off contact. He is not coming.
In the Council’s great Presidium hall,
A airy bastion broad and tall,
Warm with bronze leaves, yet smelling of spring
Filled the voices of warblers that sing,
The Council pronounces judgement on Saren
Tried in absentia for crimes against humans,
For perjury, treason, and acts of war
He’s stripped of his status. His funding is torn,
And he is declared a fugitive.
But they don’t propose steps more punitive.
They won’t send out ships to take the rogue down.
Last heard, he was in much contested ground.
Oh, the political ramifications….
Udina can’t swerve their determination.
And they will not hear of this ‘Conduit’
They say that the ‘Reapers’ are clearly a myth
Which Saren is using to win Geth support
A self-dooming way to set-up rapports.
But the beacon-
No, they won’t hear of that.
The Protheans fought too, and that is that.
‘Send me.
I, as your agent, could take it on as a case.
And my ship can go silent in Terminus Space.’
A moment of quiet. Then the Asari
Look to her fellows, looks back to me.
And I am named the first Human Spectre.
The Council’s ‘right-hand’, galactic protector
And told to go out and hunt down the traitor.

~ Stanza 13 · The Merc ~

Garrus comes with us, to finish the mission,
Avenge the fallen, vanquish the villain.
The Normandy strike-team is very small
For stealth, not fighting, we three are all.
A Turian could be of great help here
So I take him on as an irregular.
I also take Tali, the Quarian girl
She’s on a pilgrimige, travelling the world.
She’s smart and she’s able, and she asked the favour,
Which – after her intel, – how could I not grant her?
Also, the Quarians know the Geth best
Her knowledge may help in the coming unrest.
Straight from the Council, to the Normandy I go,
With Garrus, Tali, Williams, and Alenko.
But on our way there a Krogan meets us,
A great monstrous hulk with a blunderbuss.
He’s taller than Garrus and broader by far.
His wide yellow face is criss-crossed with scars.
His huge head is capped with a horny red crown.
His great humped back looms in the background.
He calls me by name, in a deep gruff growl,
Transfixing me with his alien scowl.
He had a job. That bar owner, Fist.
He wasn’t re-captured, the C-Sec raid missed.
We left him with such a fear for his skin
That he’s fled this station which we are in.
‘That was my job! And you did it instead.’
The Krogan looms grimly over my head.
‘And so! … I’m transferring the credits to you.
I don’t accept funds for things I didn’t do.’
That was … unexpected. I let go my gun.
As I rather expect my crewmen have done.
The Krogan’s quite friendly, name’s Urdnot Wrex,
He cheerfully offers his gun for my project.
He knows that Saren’s been named an outlaw
I’ve just been named Spectre. Coincidence? Pshaw!
He knows what’s up. And he wants in on it.
That’s where the action is. It’s just his fit.
A great hulking merc who’ll switch on a whim?
I go to refuse. I wouldn’t take him!
But … I don’t know, I can’t send him away.
He stands there grinning a few feet away,
Big, ugly, uncouth, a dirty hit-man.
A mercenary’s a thing I can’t stand!
But each time I go to say those few words
My voice dries in my throat. They are never heard.
I reach out and take his huge horny hand
‘Welcome aboard, Wrex.’
And he joins the band.

~ Stanza 14 · Farewell to the Captain ~

The Captain stands by the Normandy dock
Waiting outside the open airlock.
Udina’s there also, haughty and pleased.
They have advice for me, possible leads
There’ve been more Geth sightings since the attack.
A far distant colony’s reported back,
With tales of metallic, agile men
Haunting the cliff banks, lurking the fens.
A private research station exists
Hid in Noveria’s icy mists.
Supervision is low, security tight,
And Saren has ties there, out of the light.
And the lonesome voice from the Geth’s record
The one who spoke that terrible word
Belongs to one ‘Matriarch Benezia’
Of the Asari intelligentsia.
A well known elder, ancient and wise.
She’s long travelled space to help and advise
Her scattered people and other folk too
She’s not known to hate humans, or ever bring rue.
She has one daughter, Liara T’Soni
A scholar of Prothean archaeology,
… Who might be of help for her speciality.
But also, family of his inner ring
Might have insight on what Saren’s planning,
ight even know where her mother is now.
Last heard she was headed to Artemis Tau,
To an unspecified Prothean ruin.
But though they are many, they aren’t common things.
Anderson speaks of these much to me
As though I were captain, instead of he.
‘But, Captain,’ I say, ‘aren’t you coming too?’
He shakes his black head and bids us adieu.
‘A Spectre needs their own command, Shepard.
The Normandy’s yours now. Take care of her.’
Somewhere up the line the call has been made,
And though he is always steady and staid,
His voice is regretful, his words become few.
He bids us goodbye, the best man of our crew.
We leave him behind, alone on the dock.
I raise my hand to him; close the airlock.

The Normandy glides back out into space,
Out into the burning lavender waste.
The Citadel flickers and fades away
Lost in the haze of the endless day
I turn my gaze away from the station,
Away from my captain, to the constellations.
‘Attention all hands! This is the Commander.
You know we’ve been sent to catch the rogue Spectre.
But it’s not merely to justly avenge
Far more than that on our mission depends.
He’s searching for something, the “Conduit”.
This only we know; he must not find it!
This isn’t just for our own sake; Humanity.
It may matter to all who live in this Galaxy.
… Take us in to the Relay now, Joker.
Show us what the Normandy has in her.’

 Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent
   Canto 3 ⇒

As Regards The Re-appearance of Commander Shepard

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(Warning, major spoilers ahead. Do not proceed unless you have completed all three major instalments of the Mass Effect video game series.)
 
Mass Effect 2, Horizon. Most M.E. players will remember the mission immediately; the yellow grass in the glaring sunlight and the black clouds of seekers in the smoky sky, the trapped colonists frozen in the dark stasis fields, the ghastly scions and terrible praetorians. But in spite of the unprecedented victory against the Collectors which the mission was, and despite the still horrible death-toll to the colony, what many players will remember most specifically is what happens after the battle, when Commander Shepard’s old ship-mate unfreezes and finds him (or her) there.
The internet rings with complaints of the marine’s harshness, intractability, and unreasonableness. If all the posts are to be believed, then deep resentments were engendered that day. The marine does the unthinkable, and refuses to accept, support, or join Shepard’s mission, they even go so far as to criticize Shepard over it and become distraught. And they walk away from their old commander.
Ouch. Yeah. Nobody likes that scene. (Or at least, I’ve never met anyone who did.) Depending on the playthrough – what kind of person Shepard is, which marine is there, what Shepard and the marine have been to each other, how Shepard chooses to handle the marine’s shock – both the content of the scene and its effect upon the player and the characters can vary. But the fact always remains … the marine vehemently reproaches Shepard, tries to argue Shepard out of the mission with Cerberus, and turns their back on Shepard.
Why? The marine is supposed to be Shepard’s friend! In some play-throughs, they are Shepard’s beloved. What happened?
But, let’s back away from Horizon and the marine for a little while. Because this post really isn’t about the marine, it’s about Commander Shepard, the Illusive Man, and what could have been.
From our comfortable ‘meta’ position as players, we can see well enough what is going on with Shepard and Cerberus. We know perfectly well that Shepard is real and acting freely. We can see what the Collector mission is all about, and how it is likely to unfold. An astute player will be aware that the Illusive Man is probably not telling Shepard everything and will keep their eyes out to avoid being manipulated. But the player knows what’s up.
It is easy to forget that this pleasant point of view is one that the characters inside the story do not have … not even Shepard herself. (Just for convenience sake, I’m using a feminine pronoun – I played Femshep.) Since she has an ‘inside’ perspective, she knows a great deal more than most other characters can – she knows who she is, she has a great deal of evidence about what she is undertaking. But that unsettling comment Miranda Lawson makes about a control-chip … until the moment in the Collector Base when it stands within Shepard’s power to give the Illusive Man this power he desires or to withhold and destroy it, she really has no proof that there isn’t a chip.
Because there could have been. Shepard was totally in the power of the Illusive Man for almost two years. If he had wanted Shepard primarily as a tool, he could have done it. And he could have used her very dangerously. I can only think that he didn’t because her chief value in his eyes was symbolic. While she was of course very useful, she was first and foremost not a weapon, but propaganda; the symbol of humanity against the reapers. That she be the genuine real deal was more valuable than that she be a dependable asset. But what if he had primarily wanted a tool?
If we look at it from an outside perspective, away from the player, from Shepard, the simplicity of the situation vanishes. The matter becomes cruelly complicated, the possibilities of what might be going on are suddenly multifarious.
A renowned Alliance soldier is spaced in battle, her body is lost in the void. It is accepted that she is dead. Two whole years later, a person who appears to be this same soldier enters the galactic stage, working with a known terrorist organization of great power and technical ability.
What exactly is this soldier?
Well, it really could be the soldier. But it could be an imposter. And yet again, it might be technically the soldier … but with something wrong. Any of these three, and the many possible variations they contain, would be reasonable to postulate under the circumstances. I’d like to take a minute, and explore a few of the possibilities here.
If really the soldier …
  • Shepard could have just been rehabilitated in secret, and is just coming back into the world now because she’s finally recovered. She’s still everything she was before, just has found herself in peculiar circumstances. (We have the benefit of knowing that this is the correct one.)
  • Or Shepard could have been much less badly hurt in the space battle than believed, and since then been living undercover purposely; perhaps working by choice with this organization due to a change of allegiance.
If the same soldier, but messed with …
  • Shepard could have had that control chip. Very very easily. This might not alter who she is, but it would very much alter what she has the freedom to do, perhaps even what she has the freedom to see.
  • Considering that she had been in the hands of an organization like Cerberus, brainwashing would have been a very real possibility. It could even have been theorized that those two years of absence might have been used not for healing her, but for twisting her. It could have been a very confused and psychologically damaged Shepard who reappeared; one deeply under the manipulative influence of the Illusive Man.
  • It could have been really Shepard, alive, aware, and there, but with some other will acting through her. Creepy, I know. But theoretically there are ways the Illusive Man could have done this. Shepard would have been little better than a prisoner in her own body.
  • She could have been simply indoctrinated. Not long afterwards, most Cerberus operatives were.
If an imposter posing as the soldier …
  • It could reasonably suspected that it is a Shepard clone. That thiscould have been done is so well established that such a clone actually appears in a M.E.3 DLC – and causes havoc.
  • An android is at least a superficial possibility.
  • Plastic surgery, facial transplants, voice synthesizers. This theory is easily disprovable, but could have been easily postulated by those who knew little. (Clearly, it wouldn’t have gotten past Commander Bailey of C-Sec.)
  • It could have been Commander Shepard’s real body, Commander Shepard’s own brain, working and functional, but with Shepard herself gone, and someone or something else in her place. (Yes, creepy again, I know. Sorry, this is a creepy subject.)
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the possible villainies which Cerberus could have perpetrated with and upon Shepard. It is merely to explore some of the possibilities which a person within the story could reasonably theorize. And if you look at the reactions of different characters and groups to Shepard’s reappearance, there are indeed a range of responses.
For a lot of people who knew Shepard only by reputation, the reaction was simply: “Hey! I’d heard you were dead! Weird!”
But when she returns to Alliance Command, they are so confused as to what happened, that they put her under house-arrest and take months to not make up their minds what to do with her.
Aria T’Loak, self-declared ‘queen’ of Omega, states straight out “That could be anybody wearing your face.”
Gianna Parasini (the corporate detective from Noveria) seems to assume that she had been undercover or something, and avoided asking awkward questions.
Tali Zorah, Shepard’s spunky Quarian friend from the fight against Sovereign, temporarily fears an imposter. Depending on the play-through, this can be brought to light or remain unsaid. If Shepard tells her at Freedom’s Progress something that only the two of them knew, Tali will then and there accept completely that Shepard is real and can be trusted. She still can’t go with her, since she’s got her own mission to worry about. But she doesn’t have to think about it for months before deciding to trust her.

Garrus Vakarian … bless his innocent heart! The idea of a fake Shepard or twisted Shepard clearly never even occurs to him. Such deceptiveness is not a concept Garrus seems to find easy to grasp. He is naturally a little reckless (okay, we all know Garrus, he’s crazy reckless!) and takes situations as they come without too much critical examination. By the time the idea of something being wrong is brought squarely before his notice, Shepard’s genuine presence has already rendered the idea preposterous.

Liara T’Soni was not quite in the same position as the rest of the galaxy. After all, she had helped to arrange this. She had given Shepard to Cerberus with the understanding that they were going to try to revive her. They were a pro-human organization, and they wanted to help the human hero. Voilà! Here she is. (Yes, I know Liara took a risk in giving them Shepard. I guess I’ve just been analysing the enormity of the risk. But I can’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone – especially in retrospect – could possibly have the heart to blame the dear girl!)

David Anderson, Shepard’s commander. It is difficult to say exactly what he thought. He never tells us directly. From the content of his message to Shepard, he thought the reports of her being alive were unlikely to be true. When she shows up on the Presidium, he treats her as though he assumes that she is Shepard, quite friendly and helpful. In the play-throughs where he is councilor, he reinstates her Spectre status. … But then he won’t give her classified information – security risk, he says. My guess is that Anderson did not know, and knew he did not know, and decided to stand back and watch her prove herself … or not. He treated her kindly, and was to a certain point willing to help her, but not trust her. Not yet. Of course, by the beginning of the M.E.3, when the reapers attack, he has clearly made up his mind.
This brings us back to the marine.

(It is difficult to talk about generalities. While I know there are a number of different ways this story arc can play out, the version I myself am most familiar with is one with Staff Commander Kaiden Alenko and a primarily paragon Femshep, in a serious relationship, where Shepard is actively seeking reconciliation. So, I write with that version in mind, but I believe that most of what I have to say applies quite broadly.)
I am aware I may be playing with fire. So be it.
Well then, the marine is shocked by the Cerberus connection, tries to argue Shepard out of working with them, and then retreats. Why would he do that? … In light of what we have just been examining, I don’t think his reasons are really so terribly obscure.
Firstly, there is just the fact that she is working with Cerberus. Please remember what Cerberus is, not only in the broad view, but specifically to Kaiden Alenko. From the player’s point of view, it may mean chiefly the irritating shady guy funding the mission. From some of Shepard’s alien friends’ point of view, it may mean merely that Human supremacist organization which doesn’t like them. But from Kaiden’s point of view, they are not only the evil terrorist organization he is currently assigned to fight, they are ideologically everything he stands against. Think for a moment of the racist agenda, the secret, cruel experiments, the terrorism, the treachery, the willingness to do whatever evil is convenient in the name of future benefits for a favoured group. And then think of Kaiden, and his decency and compassion, his unbigoted respect of persons regardless of race, his principled rejection of using unethical means in pursuit of whatever ends. He will of course have just learned the real culprit in the kidnappings. But that Cerberus was not to blame here specifically doesn’t change what it is. Cerberus is the enemy. And Shepard is with them. This alone would cause shock and horror. That his friend, his comrade-in-arms (let alone his sweetheart) would willingly do something as wrong and foolish as allying with this monster appals him. Of course he challenged her on it. Any friend in his understanding of the situation would have to. He tries to dissuade her so vehemently because he truly believes that she is making a terrible mistake which will seriously endanger both her and others.
But of course, it wasn’t just that. There was also the whole ‘what is the soldier?’ question. And as we have seen, that really is very complicated. Kaiden seems to assume at first, as thoroughly as Garrus, that of course it’s Shepard. And for those first few moments he is just glad to see her. Once the Cerberus connection is brought to light, this happy assumption is challenged. Right there, while they argue over the merits of the Cerberus mission, he openly suggests that she may be being manipulated by the Illusive Man. His fears moved into the second category (see above). And, as we find out later, they move even farther, into the third category – he realizes that this might not be Shepard at all. This fear is not brought directly to light until M.E.3, on Mars. Kaiden doesn’t speak it openly on Horizon. But in retrospect it is clear enough. When exactly this last terrible possibility arose in his mind is never stated directly. I am inclined to think it occurred toward the end of that conversation. But that he realized it at least by the time he sent that message to Shepard is evident – that quiet little ‘if’ … if you are the Shepard I remember. Taking into account both what he said in that letter and the fears he revealed later on Mars, we can come to a fairly clear picture of his response to that question, ‘what is the soldier?’.
He didn’t ‘answer it’ at all.
Instead, he considered the situation, came to an understanding of what the the possibilities were, and then chose none of them, but remained in conscious doubt for months … until he had proof which one was correct.
Meanwhile, he tried to act in a fashion appropriate to any of the theories. He tried to be kind and supportive to her. He reached an understanding of how she – if it was her – could be doing all this in good faith and perhaps even wisdom, and so encouraged her as well as cautioned her. And at the same time he tried to be firm and cautious lest he allow her to betray him and others into a Cerberus plot. And all the while he was in that terrible doubt, no longer clean grief – but balancing precariously between hope and fear. Was she really all right and back again? Was she enslaved? Was she gone? Was Shepard herself still in that form? He did not know. And so he waited to find out for real.
I don’t think he gets enough credit for this response. Not only did he think the matter through more thoroughly and come to a better understanding of the situation than most characters did, not only did he manage the really quite formidable feat of succumbing neither to the hope nor to the fear and maintaining his rational scepticism, but he took her seriously enough to realize that it was necessary to do so. The fact that he retreated, that he withheld from her his confidence, and doubted her, has seemed to some to be an act of disloyalty. It wasn’t. It was an act of faithfulness. To the Alliance, yes: he could not abandon his command and his remaining men, break his orders and disregard his oath – to run off on a Cerberus mission. To Principle, yes: he could not do this thing he thought was wrong because it called him in a voice he loved. But it was also an act of faithfulness to Shepard herself. What if it was not Shepard? If he did these things he believed (however mistakenly) were wrong for her, and gave everything (be it loyalty, friendship, or romantic love) which had belonged to Shepard to … an imposter, a monster, a perversion perpetrated upon her bones. … It would be to break faith with the dead as well as the living. What did he care who it seemed to be? He wanted to know who it was. It was Shepard herself that mattered. And if this wasn’t Shepard …
And when he actually has a chance to observe her first-hand, when he actually gets that evidence he has waited for, how long does it take him to come to the correct conclusion? Not long at all. And then he owns up as soon as he can.
So, did the marine handle Horizon perfectly? Not at all. A man of perfect intellect could have come to a complete understanding of the possibilities at once, rather than tripping over them as he tried to make sense of what was going on. A man of perfect patience might not have become overwrought at his old commander (or friend/or lover), might have been able to totally conceal his own distress and exhort her with utter serenity. A perfect man would have swallowed his own fear more than Kaiden was able to.
But Kaiden did good. He was a mere mortal man, and his own confusion, anger, and fear came through. He welcomed her back, tried to prevent her from making a dreadful mistake, and when he failed and realized how devilishly complicated the situation was, he retreated to try to make sense of it (oh, and he really did have to handle his responsibilities as commander of the resident defence force) leaving her with good wishes and the best advice he had.

And, back to the Illusive Man and Shepard. Let’s jump forward a bit. The marine didn’t trust Cerberus huh? Thought they were bad news all over, sure to betray, certain to do great evil? Do we just want to think of how closely Cerberus actually cooperated with the Collectors at times? Do we want to think of the trap in the Collector ship? Do we want to talk of Mars and its slaughter and theft? Of Eden Prime and its invasion? Of Omega and its Naziesque regime? Do we want to go back to the planet of Horizon again a year later and visit the damned death factory? Do we want to remember who it was who gave our plans to the reapers and stole the catalyst?!

Does more need said on that score?
And Shepard. Because we all know that Shepard is Shepard, we all assume that everyone should trust her (or him). But really, should they? Throughout M.E.2 Shepard can cooperate with Cerberus to an extent not justified by her mission. Does she upload the info to the Alliance? Or to Cerberus?  At the end of M.E.2, that abominable Collector Base, all that devilry and power … if Shepard gives it to Cerberus she has committed the very evil and treachery that the marine feared. She will, in fact, have proved his angry, horrified warnings correct. And at the end of M.E.3? She can, if she so chooses, bring about the Illusive Man’s vision.
Shepard may always be the real Shepard. But that was not the only question. Let us not only say that more than one theory can be postulated upon Shepard reappearing with Cerberus. Let us remember that more than one theory can be true.
Mass Effect Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent