~ Stanza 1 · In the Shades of the Past ~
As the days pass the stars slide past.
Scarcely one grasps how extremely fast
The Normandy’s truly moving through space.
We seem to glide at a leisurely pace.
The space of the cluster is clear and fair
Untroubled by star winds or bursts from flares.
No traps lay in wait in the half-enclosed sea.
The sailing is swift and fine and free.
On some other voyage, I’d wind out the days
And savour each one in the apricot rays.
Would I could now! But Liara’s fell theory
Has donned the black shades that the beacon showed me.
I still can’t explain what I knew in that strife
Nor write it, nor trace it, nor carve with a knife.
Murder and fire and withering dark
But no tale, no fact, no info to mark.
I feel but can’t think! Though I wear my brain sore.
Even the colours I have no words for.
Yet as time goes by I grow more and more sure
That that’s what I saw – the end of a world.
And if this terrible theory is true,
If this is what Saren is meaning to do,
How small are the actions that I can now take!
The fastest ship might no difference make!
To bring back the beings who dashed out the light
Plunged worlds into chaos, set all tongues to flight.
What madness drives him? What stake is his?!
What could posses any nau to do this?
~ Stanza 2 · The Scholar’s Bower ~
There’s a room where the shipboard computers whirr
Far from the whistles and feet and the stir.
There sits Liara, studying alone,
A more passionate scholar than I’ve ever known.
Three times and nineteen my years she has seen
And known far more places than I’ve ever been.
Yet how very youthful she seems to be.
And like junior to senior she speaks to me.
How quiet her voice is, how gentle her tongue
But never such knowledge was won by the young.
Often I remind myself how little I know,
How closely connected she is with our foe,
Remind myself not to bestow trust unearned
Not to assume what I’ve not truly learned.
So though I can’t truly think ill of her
Or fail to delight in her lore-laden words,
I keep a reserve from her, back in my mind
And withhold a judgement, though my words are kind.
Too much now lies in my hands to break!
How cautious I must be if I am to make.
When my mother was given her own command
She thought it power enough for one woman’s hands.
But I am a spectre too.
A responsibility given to few.
And now, what is this task I have been given?
What’s in my hands with this “simple” mission?
~ Stanza 3 · The Boy from Brain Camp ~
It’s not only me that such peril sees
Alenko once ventures to speak of it to me.
He’s one of the co-pilots, when there is need
But has other duties which oft supersede.
There’s a power-flow station off the central hall
To him the monitor shift often falls.
And sometimes I stop for a while there
And thoughts of the mission we often will share.
One of these times my spectrehood rises
And the weight which all that power comprises.
Kaidan Alenko views it quite seriously
Not that he fears that I’ll act unjustly
Rather it’s care he speaks of to me.
And tries to express, respectfully,
Just how much harm thoughtless power can be
Harm that the wielder may never see.
A tale is brought forth as an illustration,
(Half drawn out by some friendly persuasion)
Of an early and long closed biotic school
And a Turian instructor, resentful and cruel.
As the story unwinds it surprises me
With a side of Alenko which I haven’t seen.
This instructor had neither justice, nor prudence.
He right off presented himself to his students
As the “Turian soldier who shot down your father”.
‘Wasn’t pleased when I said my dad works in Vancouver.’
‘Why, Alenko!You back-talked someone?’
He did. Time went on and nothing was done
About Vyrnnus’ arbitrary, harsh decrees
His demanding hatred they could not appease.
Before it ended one teen died
Apparently driven to suicide.
And one day the Turian finally snapped
Lost his temper and went on attack.
‘The girl only wanted a glass of water!’
But Vyrnnus refused, flipped out, and hurt her.
‘So what happened then? They finally sack him?’
No, I am told, that wasn’t an option.
Young Kaidan had gotten between the two
Afraid for the girl, what the teacher might do.
And when Vyrnnus’ knife drove into his side
The boy’s biotic blast flung the Turian wide.
‘Sat down by a kid! Well that must’ve burned.’
‘Well … no, Commander. I don’t think he learned.’
Kaidan was never charged with offence.
It was plainly and clearly in self defence.
He’d meant to help Rhana, not cause Vyrnnus’ end.
But I am quite proud of my biotic officer
To challenge and best a grown Turian soldier,
As only a kid, in defence of a friend.
‘That Rhana’ I ask ‘are you two still friends?’
‘Ah, not really, Commander. That’s where that ends.
After Vyrnnus died she was … frightened of me.’
And twenty years later, the man still is sorry.
‘I guess, Ma’am, all I’ve been trying to say
Is when you slip up, you don’t know who pays.
Hiring him was a convenient decision.
Changing their tune would have brought on derision.
If they’d taken more thought, or then paid attention
None of that would ever have happened.
But some people died and others were marred.
Money was wasted, and young minds were scarred.
Without meaning harm they got themselves caught
In a vicious cycle fostering rot.
There’s bound to be some tough calls laid on you.
And Ma’am, I don’t want that to happen to you.’
~ Stanza 4 · Training ~
The Normandy isn’t a troop transport
She’s a recon vessel with strike-team support.
Most of the crew are specifically sailors;
controlmen, navigators, and engineers.
But five warriors wait in the lists
And our Geth and Prothean specialists.
Down in the cargo bay we seven train
Best as we can in constricted terrain.
A second-rate strike-force is no good at all.
But a commando team that’s deadly and careful
Well-trained, well-equipped, and knowledgeable
Can cause much larger forces’ fall.
On Therum my team proved that they could work,
Regardless of races or personal quirks.
Wrex, that big merc, took orders quite well
Williams was decent enough to tell.
Her views have not yielded, her fears are still there
But she can still lead, fight beside, and play fair.
She’s a strange blending of the hard and the kind,
Of deeds of the body, and flights of the mind.
Once, in the hold, we happened to talk
Of the vast fields of wonder outside the airlock,
The light, and the movement, beyond the skies
The flowing, the glowing nebulae
The edge of the galaxy spinning away
Far past the reaches of our stellar days
The galactic diamonds lacing the void
Which man cannot reach, but sing to him joy
The hand of God in the constellations
The laughing, blinding light of creation.
I had not realized that she even saw this
So many are blind and pass over bliss
Unthinking, unseeing, and dead to the world.
Not her. I realize that Ashley has heard
The Song of the Morning which wise men know
Sung in deep space where the deadly rays flow.
~ Stanza 5 · Across the Attican Gulf~
At long last we reach the Artemis Relay
And leap a great swath of the broad Milky-Way
To land in the star bank they call Hades Gamma
And jump straight from thence, to Attican Beta.
Attican Beta lies on a gulf
Of black empty space between the tumult
Of the Milky-Way’s arms, those bright banks of fire.
It lies like a dark, clear, still lake, through which mere
Thousands of lights shine up from below
From far, like a dream, or from long long ago.
And then turn around, for in space there’s no down
The same vision appears, the far faces abound.
Along the edge of this starry bay
We skim for hours deep into the day
Of pure white Theseus, a fair, small star
To the satellite where our colonists are
The gray green planet they call Feros.
In voids of silence, one liveable coast.
~ Stanza 6 · Out of the Mist ~
The atmosphere is white with haze
And swathed in clouds turned bright with rays.
Through the wreathes of mist and air
I glimpse two towers, tall and spare.
Far, far above the ground they stand
Bound only by a slender band
Of ancient rock, from one to next.
How smooth they stand, how unlike wrecks.
It’s said they were carved not built
That their roots stretch down below the silt
Of the moving, shifting marshlands below
And down to the bedrock of Feros.
The eastern tower holds “Exo-Geni”
A mining, corporate investment entity.
But the one on the west, they call Zhu’s Hope
Bound to the east by the narrow stone rope.
There a tiny band of settlers live,
Folk who have come to stay and give.
We glide the vessel through a great stone window
Into a vast open room in the stone.
They answered our hails, told us where to go
But the chamber is empty. We dock here alone.
~ Stanza 7 · In the Ancient Tower ~
The air in the bay is fresh and chill
The wind round the tower whistles shrill
The ground is lost in the mists below
Around us wreathing vapour blows.
We turn, Liara, Garrus, and I
Into the tower, away from the sky.
Liara’s laid aside her tunic
We girded her from our armoury,
An armoured suit of soft silver
And a gun as light as a metal reed.
The path from the bay where the Normandy’s docked
Is simple to follow, though not truly marked.
It’s newly been handled by hands that care.
It’s clean and does not need repair.
The halls cut straight from the seamless stone
Cry out of their dwellers, yet we walk alone.
Liara must see everywhere
The vaulted chambers broad and fair,
The narrow nooks and closets dark
Far beyond the reach of spark
The winding stairs and far pierced shafts
Through which the soft white sunbeams laugh.
It is believed this was once
A great Prothean library
Many many ages since
A place of knowledge and of study.
No known records here remain
Just empty stone above the plain.
Oh, how she wishes she could see
This tower as it used to be!
Now the calls of birds are all the sound,
And here and there a pale vine twines around
Through nooks and crannies in the shade.
I wonder how many cracks it’s made.
~ Stanza 8 · The Bivouac ~
Ahead, there reaches a long corridor,
Broken and scorched are the walls and the floor.
At the end is a barricade where armed men wait
Slumped beside rifles, guarding the gate.
‘What news, Zhu’s Hope? Against whom do you fight?’
I now see their faces, clear in the light.
They’re pale and exhausted, blackened with grime.
They’ve been here at guard for a very long time.
No one answers my question, but one nods us through.
‘Fai Dan’s over there. It’s him you should talk to.’
Beyond the gate’s a broad shaft-lit room
Clustered with shelters like many cocoons.
We pick our way through it; a rushed, dreary camp
Cluttered, and smoke stained; a chill feel of damp.
Few pause to look at the three armoured strangers.
They’re all in a hurry, as if they’re in danger.
One woman looks up from equipment she’s fixing
With a dull, tired look. Her left eye is twitching.
‘What’s going on? Are the Geth still here?’
‘You’d better go talk to Fai Dan over there.’
Fai Dan is an older man, stooped and worn
Like all about him, he’s tense and forlorn.
His great dark eyes are hollow and weary.
But he greets us with a muster of courtesy.
The Geth are not gone. They haunt the place still.
Zhu’s Hope is at war. Many folk have been killed.
They wait even now for another attack.
‘Another? Right now?’
‘No. They always come back.’
The colonists have bottled themselves in this chamber,
Abandoned the bridge, to their halls became strangers.
These long narrow corridors funnel the Geth
Right into their waiting rifles and death.
But for how long can they fight like this still?
I look among them. They’re going to fall ill.
‘You’re a small colony to face an attack.
You should have called for aid or an evac.’
‘Leave Zhu’s Hope? No! We’d never do that.’
‘There’s Geth in the tower!’
Someone cries out.
Everyone jumps at the terrible shout.
I call to the ship. The whole camp is moving,
Dozers awaking and many feet running.
‘Alenko? You’re up. I need Bravo Squad.
Take Williams and Wrex. Our info was flawed.
The Geth are still here. Zhu’s Hope’s under attack.
Uploading schematics. Stay in contact.’
‘They won’t make it in time!’
I hear Fai Dan say.
‘The Geth are much closer. No, tell them to stay.’
‘Hold the siege still, Dan. We’ll play the sortie.
When the Geth are all gone, we’ll be back for your story.’
~ Stanza 9 · The Sleepless ~
From the narrow tunnel, I hear the steel feet pound.
Through the halls and chambers, stone echoes with the sound.
They come; a voiceless, breathless, band.
Marching; death in cruel clawed hands.
We cannot directly engage the main force
We attack and pull back on a mad, twisting course
Drawing along many Geth in pursuit
To fall when we back-track and double our route.
Or with audio contact between our two bands
Lead them straight into the second squad’s hands.
The fewer Geth they can hurl through that trap
The less chance of one getting through.
They’ve worn Zhu’s Hope down, expecting they’ll snap,
Fall ill, pass out, and grow few.
An endless barrage of waves Geth can keep.
It’s a waiting game and they do not sleep.
As we turn on a troop of our lured off pursuers
Turn them in a moment from hunters to prey
And hurl them down to fall to the sewers
Out of the white of the the soft Feros day
I see where the slaughtered lie, not yet retrieved.
And I hear in my ears a voice, soft and grieved.
‘So much suffering. So much loss.
And still they stand and they fight.
They’ve done great work here but what’s the cost
Of these wonders that they’ve brought to light?’
I turn to look at the young girl beside me.
Light still flickers round her hands, faintly.
She has thrown down so much ravaging steel!
I’m amazed at the furies those small hands have dealed.
But her fair face is filled with pity and woe,
Grief for the colonists and high brought so low.
‘This place was once a house of learning!
It should not have become a den of slaughter.’
I see her valiance, her care, and her yearning…
Of this moment, I love Benezia’s daughter.
~ Stanza 10 · The Mad-man ~
When the gate is clear I leave the camp
With both of my squads, and we search through the damp
And the mist and the empty chambers of stone
Looking for Geth who are lurking alone.
In a dim-lit corridor filled with pipes
Where the distant sunlight falls in stripes
I hear the sound of a human man’s groan
And look, where he turns, with a terrible moan.
A fire of madness glares in his eye
As if in torment. His face twists awry
Not a coherent word his stiff jaws unclamp
But he rails contempt on his fellows in camp
When I ask him why, he answers not
But screams defiance towards I know not what,
With a mirthless, hysterical laugh of disdain
Fading away to a cry of pain.
A man so mad, so far fallen under
Should never have been allowed to wander!
But he will not return back with us
And I am loath to subject him to force.
So we leave him alone, in the cold, heartless stone
Behind I hear still his pitiful groans.
~ Stanza 11 · Death from the East ~
Zhu’s Hope has resumed its former rushed drear.
Sounds of welding, and pounding, and sighs fill my ears.
When I speak of the madman, Fai Dan shakes his head
In his face the last gleam of vigour has fled
In its place is exhaustion and saddened shame.
Zhu’s Hope’s weary Chief bows his tall lanky frame.
The Geth came at first as shadows at night.
They haunted the towers but challenged no fight.
Then they returned and the east tower fell,
Geth troops now march from the slain corporate shell.
And so to the East my team turns its gaze
Whence death has marched for many long days.
‘Tali, bring the Mako
Round to the tower’s gate.
Over the bridge our team must go.
The six of us await.’
~ Stanza 12 · Over the Bridge ~
Overhead is the sky, on each side is the sky
An ocean of mist lies on every side.
Far in the distance pinnacles float
Over the fogbank, like sharp broken notes
But the bridge, which seemed like an over-spun thread
Stretched dizzily over a great gulf of dread
Proves up close to be solid and broad
Good to support a thousand such squads;
A causeway of giants tremendous and bold
Far in the clouds, enormous and old.
From the ramparts we’re hailed and called off to the side
To a deep hidden chamber where many men hide;
Scientists and bureaucrats, janitors and guards
Who escaped from the east when the Geth first hit hard.
The Geth have not found them, or else did not care.
They’ve seen the troops march but Geth never stopped there.
At the news that Zhu’s Hope, their neighbour, yet stands
Many rejoice, and encourage our plans.
But their current leader, Director Jeong
Acts like we’re scavenging vagabonds.
Company property’s company property
Don’t mess with anything that’s ExoGeni’s.
But one older woman, Julia Baynam
Who’s just gotten back from a long expedition
To find all in chaos and fire and war
Briefs us on the tower she left weeks before
And begs us to keep an eye out for survivors.
Many got out, but she’s not found her daughter.
A furlong away from the lowering gates
We leave the Mako, bid Tali wait
Retreat if she needs, to keep herself safe
And return, when we call, to these eastern gates.
I will lead Squad Alpha up.
Alenko will lead Bravo down
We’ll stay in contact, search through the huge place;
Rejoin when the Geth base is found.
The tower looms up tall before
Open and dark are the great brazen doors.
~ Stanza 13 · The Eastern Tower ~
In the tower beyond the guardhouse
The halls are burned and black
All that ExoGeni built
Has been torn, and crushed, and hacked.
Shadows slink just out of our sight
Beasts too few to attempt a fight,
Drawn up by the battle and stench of death
More hungered than afraid of Geth.
I know the Geth are hunting us,
As we are hunting them.
But the depth of stone conceals us both
And we quietly prowl like circling ghosts
Listening, and listening again.
High in the tower, in an empty room
A monument’s been built.
The black shape stands in a shadowy gloom
The stench is like an open tomb
For with blood the shape is gilt.
‘It’s like some kind of ghastly shrine.’
Liara says, ‘Have the Geth showed signs
Of bloody pagan rites before?’
‘No, not according to Quarian lore.’
Tali answers over the comm.
‘But the Geth I found Saren’s intel on
Held the Reapers in an odd sort of light,
The pinnacle of all synthetic life.
Almost as if they were deities.’
I hear Williams snorting distantly:
‘If they’re looking for God, they’re going the wrong way!
But, shall we send them to meet Him today?’
A survivor we find in the tower’s depths
Or rather she finds us
Her bullet glances off my chest
And shocked apology she protests
Ere we see her in the dusk.
We promise to return for her
And she lends her ID to help us through the tower.
In our search I step to the ledge of a window
Looking out to the bright fields of fog below
Swift sinks the sun on fast spinning Feros
Scarce is the swiftly repairing Geth host.
I cast my eye up the smooth, grey wall
It stretches away, dull-toned and tall.
But a gleam in the sunset, like a beetle’s back
Reflects near the top of the Prothean stack.
The Geth weren’t dropped off. A small ship still clings
To the side of the tower with enfolded wings,
And there are their foundries, their coms and spare parts,
There is the place from whence the raids march!
I call o’er the comm to Lieutenant Alenko
To call off the search and bring along Bravo.
I get Tali on-line. We conspire with her.
In the last of the light we climb through the tower.
Stanza 14 · The Worm in the West ~
On our way we come on a Krogan snorting
Cursing and pounding, almost cavorting
‘Subject species fourteen! The files! Now!’
‘That data’s secured. No ID? Not allowed.
Is there anything else that you need tried?’
‘Give me the files you piece of rust!
Or I will blast your virtual hide
Into actual, factual, stinking dust!’
‘If that will be all, Sir, please stand aside.
A queue has formed behind you. This chamber is not wide.’
The flat face is split by an evil grin,
‘Good! Cause I really need to kill something!’
When the battle is over, there isn’t much left
Of what was once an office, it’s crushed, stamped, and reft
By the temper and force of the ogre’s death charge
A hologram stands across the room, man-large.
I produce the ID.
‘Welcome, Miss Baynam.’
And I ask for the data sought by the Krogan.
Species Fourteen is a native plant
Which grows in the western tower
Those who stay long in the range of its spores
Fall slowly under its power.
Their minds slowly bend and their wills fade away
They become living tools to be used.
And its grip grows more sure with each passing day
As the human case study has proved.
The human case study?
The folk of Zhu’s Hope
I realize they’re right o’er its main neural spoke.
‘Well, here’s Saren’s interest in Feros.
Of course he wants that play.
But oh, when I find that Director Jeong,
There will be hell to pay!’
~ Stanza 15 · The Geth Drop-ship ~
The Geth ship doesn’t cling to the smooth carven stone
It’s sent out it’s claws into Feros’ stone bones.
In through great windows, the landing gear reaches
It twines through the halls and the bulwarks it breaches.
But the ship’s powered down, its engines are cold.
And these few floors are weakened by the claws’ piercing hold.
Liara’s our closest to an architect
She chooses the points which most strongly connect.
Whose loss would most weaken the floor in its grip
We set up charges. And then let it rip.
The cracking of rock, and screeching steel’s groan
The crash and the boom of the ripping of stone
And light of its crash bursts up through the fog.
It stains the pale mist with the brown glow of smog.
~ Stanza 16 · The Work of ExoGenii ~
When we return to Miss Baynam, she hangs her head.
She does not deny what the hologram said.
Such a creature does live, in the western tower
ExoGeni just studied as it overpowered
The minds and the wills of the colonists
Watched as Zhu’s Hope ceased to exist.
They who were free men, fight now as slaves
Spending their blood o’er their foul master’s cave.
I think of the madman hiding alone
Hear the pitiful echoes of his wretched groans.
He alone is still sane. It’s the rest who are mad.
Their false appearance just mocks what they had!
He fights still the battle his fellow have lost
At a hideous, hideous personal cost.
‘I wanted to help!’
Miss Baynam cries.
‘I did. Please believe me. It isn’t a lie.
I didn’t find out till quite recently.
They said if I ratted the next would be me.
That’s why I didn’t go out with the rest,
I was trying to get to the coms, past the Geth.
But the coms were destroyed, and I didn’t know
If I was the one left here on Feros’
Back down through the lonely tower we go
In the full night’s dark and damp
And out to the bridge, with dim cloudscape below
And on to the company’s camp.
Where I charge to his face the wretched man
Whose pitiless heart made the cruel order stand.
Not at knew of the evil. The janitors gasp.
And my scientist helper looks up as she clasps
The young Baynam to her, and hurls upon Jeong
The shame of his actions, the depths of his wrong.
And he waffles and sneers and talks of stockholders
Heaps up expenses and shrugs his bow shoulders,
And complains that in all this worthless waste
Species Fourteen, the Thorian, was the only case
Wherein ExoGeni might look for a profit!
The huge applications! Just think of it!
Then sinking from depth to depth, he turns
And suggests it’s too late. It all has to burn.
The world must never be allowed to see
The thing that was done by ExoGeni.
A whisper goes up. My team shifts behind me.
I see that we’re flanked by private security.
‘So, Commander … what do you say?
The Thorian has them. Zhu’s Hope’s lost anyway.’
‘Jeong, I am an Alliance marine.
All that I am and all I’ve sworn binds me
To protect and to serve these “subjects” you’ve studied!
And yet, for the convenience of a mere company,
You would propose mass murder to me?!’
‘Well. If that’s the way it has to be.
That’s fine! You know, that’s fine with me.’
There’s a slight motion of Jeong’s right hand
A nod to where where security stands.
And I put a bullet through his wretched brain
Before his pistol’s pulled out on its chain.
‘Everyone! Stand down!’
And they obey.
My team drew and shielded much faster than they.
‘Commander?’ I hear. ‘Come in. This is Joker!
The colonists want on board!’
‘Don’t let them it! Don’t open that door!’
‘Yeah, no in or out. We remembered your order.
They knocked on the door and asked nicely at first
But we told ‘em your order and it changed for the worst.
They’re messing with the hull, they’re hitting my ship!
Presley wants orders, what’s up with this?’
‘Is the ship in real danger? I mean seriously?’
‘No I don’t think so, they can’t hurt her really.’
‘Then sit tight. Let them pound. Keep them there if you can.
Just don’t go outside. And don’t let in one man.’
~ Stanza 17 · The Enemy Awaits ~
I hold a council, a council of war
To hear my team’s ideas and the scientists’ lore.
The Thorian must be destroyed, and the sooner done, the better.
But nowhere is it vulnerable besides that neural centre.
Little good would be the mere tearing of shoots.
Poison will not reach the nerve through the roots.
I call for a toxin strong enough to be used
But I know to employ it, we’ll have get through
To that centre the colonists defend with their lives,
The old men, the children, the husbands, and wives.
And already the Thorian knows that we know
Knows that we’re coming. Knows we’re its foe.
‘Commander,’ says Julia, ‘I have something here.
Down my science work out in the meres
I carried non-lethal gas grenades
Which let me examine and yet cause no pain.
I have five grenades left. They are very strong.
Take them. And these masks. They’ll do men no wrong.’
Only five, against so many.
I turn to Alenko and speak quietly.
‘Take the Mako, Lieutenant. Patrol the causeway.
The ship may have crashed, but I’m sure Geth escaped.’
‘But Zhu’s Hope, Ma’am?’
‘My squad will take it.
We can’t shoot our way through this, we can’t use all six.
You’ll be three more targets and not three more guns,
And, I need you to keep Wrex away from this one.
I don’t know we could stop him from firing back
If the colonists do indeed go on attack.
And I want that thing knowing there’s a squad in reserve.
It may throw men less blindly, try to conserve.
And most important, what Geth still exist
May come in our wake. So, hold the bridge.’
‘Take care, Commander.’
‘Oh, I’m gonna try.’
I take Lisbeth’s vial, and bid him good bye.
~ Stanza 18 · Into the Dark ~
Down the middle of the broad stone road
Through the damp, black fog
Muffled we walk, avoiding the nodes
That creep the dark walls along.
We scarcely can see the tower ahead
A blackness blacker than fog overspread.
The only sound is the wind’s low moan
And the Mako’s distant rumbling tones.
The gate is a gaping hole into dark.
Not a breath of a voice, nor a flicker of spark.
But something is rustling beyond the old door.
A scuffling approaches o’er the stone floor.‘Who goes there?’
I step forward again, repeating the words
Faster too, comes the shuffling thing
I smell a strange odour, the air starts to sting
A long fingered hand reaches out through the mist
I fling it back with a snap of my wrist
In the flash I glimpse a terrible face
Fixed in a twisted inhuman leer
Beside me I hear Liara gasp
Her voice is filled with fear.
‘That can’t be one of the colonists!
It simply cannot be.
No torment, slavery, space of years
Could do that to humanity.’I flash on my gun-light, the distorted form lies
Pallid and limp, grotesque to my eyes
It’s crushed and torn though my blow was light
I look more closely.
‘No, its alright.
This isn’t an animal at all, it’s vegetable.’
‘Hm.’ says Garrus. ‘Sounds rather improbable.’‘
No, come and look…’
‘Wait, Shepard! Don’t touch it!’
‘It’s extremely toxic.
I’m reading it highly alkaloid.’‘
Right. Hideous, stinking, toxic decoys.
Use deadly force here, if more exist
But never, never on the colonists
No matter the hold this thing has on their minds,
No matter how mad, how deadly, how blind.
Remember, when we enter this door.
That it is Zhu’s Hope that we’re fighting for.’
~ Stanza 19 · The Conquered Colony ~
And so, in arms, we re-enter Zhu’s Hope.
I keep my eyes fixed on my dim radarscope.
In all the hall there is no glow or spark
But I hit the ground ere guns bark in the dark.
‘Liara, be ready!’
My arm pulses with blue
Surrounding my hand, the grenade I just threw.
Liara’s blow follows and engulfs it too
All over the landing, green mist is spewed.
The men drop down, their guns speak no more
I leap from my hiding place down on the floor
And bound up the steps. They’re so strangely cold.
And their breath is so small, heartbeat barely told.
We go out of our way, eschew the main paths
Take round about roads towards the source of the wrath,
Running whenever we see someone
And watching for sprigs of the Thorian.
It takes a long time to reach the door
Of that long and deadly corridor.
Beside the doorframe I hold a grenade
The second precious, life-saving aid.
My biotics surround and encase the small thing.
I take a deep breath, and then pull the pin.
Propelled and protected by two fields of blue
It sails down the corridor, steady and true.
Behind it we three sprint behind in a blaze
Of barriers melded together and raised.
The shattering of bullets starts and then breaks
As the colonists tumble behind their big crates.
Long ere it’s dispersed, we’re there in the room
Using those crates ourselves in the fume.
Here they come, these men and women
All with armour, some without guns.
Blindly, madly, they rush at us three.
Death in their hands. They don’t seem to see.
And all through them shuffle, with poisonous tread
Those terrible creepers, like long decayed dead.
Not to kill and not to die–
(The air is filled with horrible cries)
-Hit hard. But don’t crush them. Hide as I can
Throw only grenades to large colonist bands.
Garrus is in there. Charged with his fists
Engaging with fisticuffs spent colonists
Exposing his shields to their open guns’ blaze
But not touching his gun, no not him, no way!
‘Liara! Cover him!’
I shout, throw again.
Bullets crash on my barrier, I hear cries of pain.
These were strong grenades, so many lie still
And yet still more rush blindly to kill.
But one more left.
I run farther in, ignoring the blast.
Best as I’ll get.
I pull the pin, and set off the last.
~ Stanza 20 · Fai Dan ~
The mist clears away, all the camp now lies silent
The people hurln down, dust covered and bent.
No battlefield stranger have I ever seen.
For no other combatants have ever I been
So grieved by the silence. They lie as if dead.
I look down at my feet, at a young flaxen head
In whose soft features dull pain still is writ.
I turn swiftly away, our work must be quick.
Ere long the others who haunt the dark halls
And pester the Normandy will have been recalled.
By then we must be through and gone.
The way must be found, and then shut full strong.
A slab draws aside, a deep stair is revealed.
A gasp and groan falls sharp on my ears.
There stands Fai Dan. A gun in his hand
gaze appalled to look on the man.
His kindly face is a twisted mask
He’s bent like a lightening struck tree in a blast
His eyes are half-closed in a squint of pain
Yet he seems to see all and to see it again.
I have no grenades. A harsh blow might now kill him.
I seize my gun in the hope I can threaten.
I don’t know if he’ll hear. How he trembles and shakes!
But he looks up, looks straight into my face.
‘I was supposed to lead Zhu’s Hope.’
(Oh, his voice, that a man should croak!)
‘I was supposed to take care of these people.’
(How frail he seems, just how breakable.)
‘And look where I’ve led them. Look what I’ve done.’
He violently shakes, glances down at his gun.
‘It wants me to kill you…’
(Don’t make me, Dan, don’t.)
His hand starts to move, I prepare…
‘But I won’t.’
His gun breaks the silence. And silent he lies.
One hard-won free act. In defiance, he dies.
~ Stanza 21 · The Thorian’s Lair ~
I turn from the body and swiftly descend
Down stairwells, through corridors, past tortuous bends.
We close doors behind us, and bar from inside
To stop our pursuers, and buy us some time.
Here no long shafts pierce into the dark.
We’re far past the windows, no day could be marked.
And yet, through the place, a dim glimmering fades,
A vague phosphorescence, a smell of decay
Thick, gnarled plant limbs eat through the walls
The racked, tortured stone has crumbled, and falls
The dark limbs themselves are half eaten with rot
And wither away in their serpentine knots.
Nothing accosts us, or blocks our road.
And yet a shuffling all round us is told.
The tunnel broadens. A wide space is here,
Though airless and still. Half seen appears
The drooping of plant masses burdened with aeons.
And hanging before us – the Thorian.
‘That’s not like any plant I’ve ever seen.’
Garrus’ voice breaks the silence that’s fallen between
We three tiny travellers in this reckonless hold.
The thing is far stranger than we had been told.
It seems to move as we watch, those long vines
Are writhing snakelike in mouldy, black twines
The unbridled mass hanging rudely before us
Seems to pulsate or beat, like an animate fungus.
Some cancerous growth it appears, a great tumour
Here in the long hidden heart of the tower
As we watch, hanging growths are thrust smoothly aside
And from the dark depths a tall lady glides.
Her eyes seem to start from out her proud head
Her beautiful face is as pale as the dead
And a greenish tone fills it with light of decay.
She opens those lips; so flawless, so grey.
‘You stand before the Thorian.
It demands that you be in awe.’
I lift my voice.
‘Release Zhu’s Hope!
I cannot leave them your thralls.’
The lady moves not but bends upon me
The strength of her eyes. She was Asari.
‘Since the days of the Protheans, who it consumed
Never the Thorian has been exhumed.
This is its ancient place of strength.
It is older and greater than you can suppose.
A thousand feelers apprise you as meat.
Good only to dig or to decompose.’
She suddenly moves, a biotic blue flash.
Back against sharp, jagged stone I crash.
Through the stagnant air I hear her cry,
Wavering, raging, long and high.
‘Your blood will fall and sate its drouth!
And you shall feed the Thorian’s growth.’
I’m up but she’s gone and all round us writhes
What we took to be merely the dark, fleshy vines.
Yet arms separate from them, long fingers search,
The hideous mockery of faces emerge,
And creepers swarm round us with death in their hands
In shuffling, lurching, poisonous bands.
We cast them back, and with toxin-laced omniblades
Slash at the twines in the choking shades.
How long we fight in the horrible lair
Far from the light and the sweet moving air
In the stench and the murk and the lashing of roots
The squashings of rottenness under our boots
While poisonous hands all grasp for our throats
And acrid slime covers our slick armour coats
I cannot now say. This night is an age.
And ever anon the lady appears
Fair and fell-handed, her tongue shooting spears
As much as her hands hurl the Thorian’s rage.
But, as we tear out an uncounted vine
I hear a sound like the snapping of twine
A creaking, a swinging, a cracking, a crash!
Liara, and Garrus, and I all look down
And we sigh and clap shoulders, and look all around.
Somewhere below, the Thorian’s smashed,
Just as the Geth ship the evening before.
The creepers are quiet. We sit on the floor.
~ Stanza 22 · The Handmaid of Benezia ~
‘Shepard to Bravo. The monster is dead.
Neural activity reads no more.
Alenko, return. But carefully tread.
Zhu’s Hope is now free, I don’t know if restored.’
As we make our way back through the wreckage and stone
I hear the sound of a soft, weary moan
And there ‘mongst the hangings of withering tissue
Stands the pale lady, with altered hue.
A warm purple glow now suffuses her cheek
She looks up. I see she herself can now speak.
‘I suppose I should thank you.’
She says quietly.
‘Strangers, I’m grateful for being set free.’
‘Who are you?’ I ask.
‘My name is Shiala.
I served the Lady Benezia.’
‘Then you came with Saren?’
Yes. I did.
… I’ve not thought in so long! Where have I been?
Yes, through me he spoke to the Thorian
And with it he left me when he went again.’
‘He gave you to it?’
‘ … He has a ship.
The longer you stay there the more your mind slips.
He calls it Sovereign. It is very old
Just where he found it I never was told.
But the things I thought there– it seems now that I raved.
I came to this place as a willing slave.
It seems only now I’ve come back to my own.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here in the stone.’
‘Then Saren already controls people’s minds?’
‘It seems Sovereign can. It at least controlled mine.’
‘Then what did Saren come here for?
Shiala, his crimes reached the level of war.
We’ve been sent to catch him. I’m Commander Shepard.
Please tell me why. Tell me what you have heard.’
For a moment she stands, seems to order her thoughts.
As if she’s untwisting long tangled knots.
‘The Thorian knew the Protheans
Knew their living minds
And so it remembered them
Through all the depth of time.
This knowledge it imparted to me
I, in turn, to him.
All for the price of another thrall
It gave a world to him.
Now, if you will, Commander
I’ll give this thing to you.
An ancient memory of what they were.
Do you wish me to?’
A waking dream descends upon me
Or rather I’m thrust to a whirlwind of thought
Plunged in an raging unfathomed sea
Foreign sensation the real world out blots,
And like crashing boulders or pelting of rain
Sights, sounds, tastes, feelings wash over my brain,
Other nau’s knowledge, other nau’s pain.
Then I stand again in the Thorian’s Lair,
Breathing the dim, stagnant, foul air.
Shialia looks across to me curiously
It seems saw something she thought not to see.
So that was her race’s famous telepathy,
And something more alien than the Asari.
Liara and Garrus behind me I hear
Their concern ringing in my buzzing ears.
‘We should go back, you look quite poorly.’
Liara’s insisting quite gently to me.
I nod. A strange weight in an uneasy sleep
Rests in my mind.
You and I and Saren have
A thing no other living soul
In all the breadth of broad space has
In this moment as time rolls.
It is not a collection of speakable fact
Call it … a cipher, a key, not a tract.
Why Saren needed it, I do not know.
But, may it help you in seeking your foe.’
‘And you, Shiala, what will you do now?’
‘Zhu’s Hope. I wish to help them somehow.
I shame to have had a hand in their misery
Let me go to them now that I’m free.’
‘Then go, with my blessing, good lady.’ I say.
‘And come with us now, back up to the day.’
~ Stanza 23 · Zhu’s Hope ~
The morning light darts through the shafts
And hazes on the floor
When we have retraced our path
To the camp we left before.
White light, morning light, soft, suffusing, misty, bright
And the moving air, and the voices fair, and living men come to my sight.
They greet us with joy and with laughing cries
Though half realized grief still lies in their eyes
Clear eyes, without shades drawn inside
Open tongues, with nothing to hide.
And in amongst them, bright armour I see
The sight of my team-mates is sweet to me.
Kaidan in his dark stone green, Ashley in her pink and white
Tali masked in violet, Wrex looms red, a massive sight.
Victorious they come, the bridge held to their sway.
The Geth did come, at the breaking of day
And a terrible battle was fought at the gate.
No Geth will return to tell of their fate.
The bridge is clear and free again.
And Zhu’s Hope is released from the yoke of pain.
Their chieftain is dead, and many beside.
In my squad’s onslaught, one man did die.
Whose bullet he fell by, none of us know.
And far more were killed in the war with the foe.
Stores are destroyed, outer homes laid waste
They have only left what they pooled at this base.
And not a one but is worn to the bone
So long have they laboured down here in the stone.
But on every tongue are words of good cheer
They greet the new day as an old friend held dear.
And they welcome Shiala like one of their own
Almost as if she is already known.
I seek out and speak to the quiet-faced fellow
On whose young shoulders the chief-ship now falls.
Is there aid that he needs?
He tells me no
The monster’s no longer contained in their walls.
And they shall root out every creeper and sprig,
For its deep delving roots they’ll go out and dig.
Always look out for such creatures again
And give them wide berth … they wish to stay sane.
‘But, the low stores, I could have more shipped in.’
‘Commander, you come in the early spring.
If we can’t live here now’ he laughs ‘Zhu’s Hope won’t swing.’
Up from the bridge has come Julia Baynam
Hands anxious to the help, the warm hearted woman!
And with her her daughter, timorous girl
Tugging abashed at a short mousey curl.
I see nearby where the fallen now lie.
And grieve that so many of so few have died,
And grieve that I did not save Fai Dan.
And yet – there is this – he died a free man.
‘Oh, that the others alike had been free!
Not just tools to be thrown at the enemy!
Stoic indeed was the siege of Zhu’s Hope.
But, Garrus, remember just how Fai Dan spoke?
I mistook his eagerness for love of this place.
My curse on the liar who spoke with his face!’
‘Why then, Commander, you do him great wrong.’
It’s the woman who spoke when I first came along
The one with a twitch. The twitch now is gone.
And though she is weary her face is like dawn.
‘He did love this land. I knew him and know.
He strove hard for Zhu’s Hope. How he grieved for it’s woe!
The monster blighted our defence
With overshadowing dread
Chose where we might make our stand
Compelled us to leave things unsaid.
And yesternight drove us mad with pain
Til blind in our agony we would have slain
You, our rescuers, to our terrible shame
…. How sweet, how sweet to think freely again!
But Commander Shepard, think not that our deeds
Were only done through fear.
I can speak for myself at least.
I fought for a place held dear.
They said there was nothing but waste below
How I should like to take them and show
The sheets of clear water where swift fishes go
The splash of their play and the glint of their roe.
You have never seen, Commander,
The sun rise through the blowing mists
Nor the glowing of the nodding cups
Which the morning light has kissed.
The sun is shrouded, but all is bright
And you seem to move through living light.
You’ve never seen where the reed forests grow
Casting their seedheads like huge fluffy snow
Till the warm moving air and the boat and your hair
Are piled with laces as soft as mohair.
Amphibians dart like animate jewels
Amongst the glittering waterbug schools
The trumpet flowers beguile the hours
Humming a song I can hear from the tower.
You’ve never dived from the plastering heat,
Into the dark and the cool and the sweet
Down where the spicy brown tubers cling
To the water lapped helmets of Prothean Kings
Where the many legged lurker makes his dim muddy home
In half fallen chambers long buried in foam.
When banks of cloud drape and wrap over the ground
All turns to whispering, invisible sounds.
And you float in a world of muted grey pearl
While below the dark water ripples and swirls.
Oh, the whistling of the rushes
Before the black storm’s blast!
Oh, the days where the fog clears away
And the sun swings by so fast!
In the late afternoon how the lily stalks droop
Bending down to you their soft fragrant fruit
And you swim through long arches dripping with sweets
Long green vaulted, sun-dappled, watery streets.
In the still of an evening, hair damp with your sweat
The fruits of your labour on worn shoulders set
You never rode up through the high white halled tower
Past the still fogs and the little low showers
To the breadth and the freshness and cool of the sky
Welcomed the cliff birds’ deep-voiced, piecing cries
Watched moons’ light well through pale walls of stone
And walked hand in hand in the sky, two alone.
Zhu’s Hope is our home. He spoke truth to you.
Here we will stay, though wounded and few
For though there are many glories in space
No where else in Creation would I find this place.’
~ Stanza 24 · The Cipher ~
We take off at once. The Normandy flies
Back up to space through the vapour wreathed skies.
And down in the comm-room we seven discuss
The mission, and intel it’s has given to us.
Saren came for the Thorian
But not for its mind control.
He controls minds already through Sovereign
That’s a trick he needed not told.
An ancient ship which controls men’s minds
A twisted ship which enslaves and blinds.
Who built it? Where? How long ago?
Nothing like it’s been built by our friends or our foes.
A Prothean ship? Or the Reapers’ even?
Which spurred on to madness the ambition of Saren?
And Feros. He came for the old memories.
He needed to see as a Prothean sees.
To interpret something of old
Something put down many ages ago
Something writ of the Reaper borne woe
Before fifty millenia rolled.
And I know what he has from so far back in time.
And I have it too.
At least one I do.
The Prothean Beacon of Eden Prime.
Liara rises and steps from the crew.
‘Shepard, if I may, I think I can help you.’
Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent