The Song of the Shepard: Canto 6 ~ Close to Home

© Bioware  ~  Introduction

~ Stanza 1 · Fruit of the Victory ~
‘I can’t believe we just left her behind.’
The gentle light of the comm-room walls
On a weary and quiet circle falls.
Six here sit, with voices deadened,
Where ten hours since sat a circle of seven
Kaidan’s voice breaks the silence. And speaks out my mind.
I told her I would come for her.
Both I and Kaidan gave our words…
He held up his end – but the choice wasn’t his.
He didn’t get to make that call.
I did.
Now Ashley is dead. And Aegohr lost.
Lives this mission shouldn’t have cost.
We took out an army and levelled a base.
But Saren Arterius himself escaped.
And the Reaper, Sovereign, lives
Or exists at least, for I cannot give
A word such as life to the being that spoke
Out of the dark breathing frost to our hopes.
A little victory that but revealed
Who our true foe is. From its face it peeled
The mask of Saren’s hate and ambition
And laid open the pit of the Reaper’s vision.
I lift my head.
Kaidan’s looking to me
He’s worn and bent with grief and pain,
His square and normally ruddy face stained
With pallor from his wounded side.
The stricken depth of his eyes meet mine.
‘Commander, why? Why did you come to me?’
‘I had to make a call, Alenko;
And that was the judgement I made.
Between two perils I chose, and chose you.
That’s all that I’m going to say.’
But I cannot draw my eyes away.
This man was almost lost today,
This one, not some other man.
This one with those brown and able hands
This one whose thoughtful, patient brow
Is fair and noble, even now,
Though pale with lack of blood and breath
And heavy with his comrade’s death.
And if I turn away from the man that I saved
I’ll think of all those I did not.
What is there that I can say?
I abandoned a squad.
‘Shepard.’
I turn as Liara speaks.
‘Wasn’t there something you needed to show me?’
I rise. There is yet the second beacon,
The victory’s one trophy, the Prothean vision.
I bring it before the eye of my mind
As Liara’s mind draws close.
I feel a gasp. She breaks the bind.
‘Ilos! The Conduit’s on Ilos!’

~ Stanza 2
· The Lost Relay ~
Ilos lies beyond the Mu Relay
Where the Relay lies, there’s none can say.
They say it was used by the invading Rachni
But it’s centuries since that the last one died.
If we could be certain that the Reaper too
Doesn’t know, won’t know, and never knew
Then I’d set aside thoughts of the Conduit
Whatever it is. But they yet might find it.
We still do not know what this Conduit is
But we know that the Reapers need it.
And we know their last victims thought this important
And tried to tell us where to find it.
So inquiries can be made, and records unearthed
If all else fails, we can go out and search
The Chandrasekhar system where it’s said to be
But before I waste months, I’m searching for leads.
As soon as I can I’ll send out the word.
Liara’s re-combing for clues in the records.
The nav-team is looking for any near force
Which might move a Relay or alter its course.
We turn the Normandy’s prow towards home
Towards Earth, and the Council, the gulfs of the known.
Our guests have served a long costly tour,
They won our first victory of Sovereign’s new war,
They need conveyance back to Citadel Space.
And we too should make port in a civilized place.
We’ve not docked nor restocked for many long days.
Our ship’s been too long on the vast open rays.
But the Reapers are coming.
Saren is only their foremost pawn
The Reapers are coming.
Out of the past, out of deep space, beyond.

~ Stanza 3
· In the Hold ~

Down in the hold by the ship’s bay door,
On many and many a day before
In the drowsy light of the armoury
Where the working of tools clinked quietly
I used to find Ashley Williams,
Dark hair pulled back in a low, soft knob,
Blue sleeves rolled-up out of reach of her job,
Now there still lies the armoury
But alien voices ring sharply to me
Not that of Ashley Williams.
Commander Rentola now commands
The sadly diminished Salarian band.
Their makeshift barracks are as clean and tight
As though it were months since they came from the fight.
He’s putting a cheerful face on it
Calling their circumstance more than adequate
And though its his team that bore the real weight
He extends sympathies for Gunnery-Chief’s fate.

~ Stanza 4
· Wrex ~
I find Urdnot Wrex in a shadowed corner
Thinking to himself alone
Paws on his knees, his head bowed like a mourner
As if he was cut out of stone.
The Salarians bewail their noble captain
And more than a third of their men.
My strike team grieves the death of Ashley
And the whole crew mourns with them.
But of Urdnot Wrex’s woe
Nobody seems to care or know.
Nobody talks of the Krogan cost
Nobody speaks of the knowledge we lost.
I go to him to apologize
Thank him for his service and sympathize
But as I draw near, he stands up abruptly
And offers me the apology.
He got a bit hot down there. Got carried away.
Said things he shouldn’t have said.
‘But there is one thing, Shepard,’ – great nostrils splay –
‘When we find Saren, I want his head!’

~ Stanza 5
· The Scholar’s Dream ~

Never once do I hear Liara
Talk about how she was right.
Never once does she boast or mention
How she truly foretold Sovereign’s might.
Instead she’s just turned straight back to the work
Restudying passages where tips might lurk
And poring over all that she has on Ilos
Lest some hints to the Conduit go left unnoticed.
She thinks Ilos was the secret heart
Of knowledge in the Prothean empire
To see that sky, those pinnacles,
She has long desired.
But never has Asari Scholar ever seen that world.
‘May you be the first, Liara. Pray you win that race.’

~ Stanza 6
· Shadow out of the Past ~
For the Reapers are coming.
And they need that place.
Sovereign is hunting.
And this is a race.
What are the Reapers? Whence did they come?
Who set abeating their terrible drums?
Kaidan and I together muse
On the terrible theory our mission proved
The lost past and future bleak.
What was it we met, down there in the dark?
Still a cold shadow lies in my heart.
And I wonder to what did I speak.
‘The thing is…’ once Kaidan says
‘It isn’t just that they’re dangerous,
The most evil thing that I’ve heard or met.
I hate it, with all of my being … and yet-
Shouldn’t one feel a kind of awe?
Something so huge, and something so old,
Millions of years … with its own monstrous law,
Don’t you feel the weight of those ages of cold?’
I do. And it burdens and troubles my mind.
‘Alenko, be careful, such horror can blind.
It isn’t the first we’ve been told that we couldn’t.
If we believed it, its true that we wouldn’t.
In the Battle of Shanxi they said we couldn’t break through.
But we kicked out the Turians. We’ll get these guys too.’
He looks over at me. Almost, he smiles.
The closest I’ve seen for what seems a long while.
‘Well, Commander,’ his tone’s resolute,
‘We’re gonna need one really big boot.’

He was back to work sooner than I thought good
Doctor Chakwas insisted he should,
Light ship-board duty, nothing more,
Don’t make him lie there to think and deplore.
He says he’s alright, that he’s holding up fine.
And he hasn’t since questioned the call that was mine.
But I can only think of how
If Saren had not come,
I could have come, then come away
And brought both marines home.

~ Stanza 7
· Farewell, Williams ~

Blue and black Alliance regs
Folded flat and tight
In an almost empty locker
Kept neat and clean and bright.
A photograph of four tall girls
One in overalls, one in swirls
One standing trim in a freshly-pressed suit
The fourth in regs and military boots.
We never spoke of her sisters
Not Abby, nor Sarah, nor Lynn
I was scarcely aware they existed
And I won’t have that chance again.
Kaidan beside me seems to know
Which name is whose, and joys and woes
Of the bold and headstrong Williams tribe
Whose eldest, whose leader, almost mother, has died.
(And I wish I’d been there, when he heard.
I wish I’d been, and made a third.)
As we note the few items and pack them away
For shipment back home when we reach friendly space
I feel something hard beneath the clothes
And there underneath, in a tight-squeezed row
One line of upright volumes stands
Well-worn by the touch of hands.
Tennyson, Tolkien, Virgil and Gray
Shakespeare, and Heinlein, and Lillian Day
With well thumbed pages and bindings worn
Even in places a little torn.
There is no hurry, the long star-lit days
Roll quietly on as the ship shoots through space.
I pluck a book out of the shelf.
They’re marked inside, in sharp bold strokes
Underlining favourite quotes,
Quotes which I have loved myself
And verses which I’ve never heard,
Potent, strange, and stirring words.
As a young dreaming boy, Kaidan revelled in stories
Of men who set out on the deep starry sea
To explore the unknown, to defend their home-world,
Or make themselves worth a sweet lady adored.
While I in the rhythms of old once dwelled,
Under age old canopies with giants and elves.
For I grew up on that starry sea
Looking down to the worlds and the waters, while he
Son of a space marine, grew on the Earth
Looking up to the skies from his green place of birth.
But of recent years, both he and I
Have let all the poets slip us by.
Not Ashley.
Deep in the locker, there’s a second photograph
Kept out of the reach of a careless glance
I lift it out of the shadows.
A young man, with her nose is there.
A woman with her thick, dark hair
Beside them – I didn’t know.
But once has mankind surrendered a place
To the forces of an alien race.
That was at Shanxti, in the first contact war
By General Williams, who I’d not thought before
To connect with this woman so filled with bright fire
Yet the infamous general was Ashley’s grandsire.
Kaidan looks down at the yellowing leaf.
‘I guess her dad was ecstatic when she was made chief.
He never rose above able-spaceman.
Not after what his father had done.’
I turn the photograph o’er
On the yellowed back I read this behest:
A Williams must be BETTER than the best
If only to not fall short.’
‘Now must you give place ignominious Shanxti!
The name Williams shall hence be admired.
Now at its sound will men think of our victory
At the Reaper’s base upon Virmire.’

~ Stanza 8 · The Council Again ~
When we finally reach a comm buoy
I report to the Council, and they contact me
I take a deep breath at their very first words…
‘I thought you said you’d be discreet, Shepard!
You were supposed to go in and investigate.
Now we find that you’ve nuked the place!’
‘Okay, firstly, it wasn’t a nuke.
With a nuke we wouldn’t have lost any troops
For we wouldn’t have needed to plant it inside.
I wish we’d had one! Good soldiers died.
Second, I wasn’t in command of the mission.
It was conceived and led by the Salarians.
It wasn’t even my hand that set their drive core to blow.
That honour belongs to my lieutenant, Alenko.
And thirdly – Yes! We did blow the base!
Did you read the report I sent on that place?
You could thank me, or at least the Salarians,
That team bore one long, hard, and costly mission.
But, Councillors, the Reapers, I’ve found out much more-’
‘Shepard, enough! That string’s getting sore.’

~ Stanza 9 · The Living and the Lost ~
Many days from Hoc’s hard gaze
Many days from Virmire
We burst again on the purple rays
And the gleaming Citadel spires.
All is just as it was before.
No fright, or bustle, no signs of war.
As if the threat we’ve so plainly seen
On the night’s dark sea, was only a dream.
At the Presidium docks, a starship waits
With colours green, and open gates
For the Third STG Infiltration force
To take them the final, short, safe course
To verdant Sur’Kesh, their own home-world.
Their livid green banner hangs unfurled.
My crew comes out to see them off,
And many an Alliance cap is doffed
To the valiant, victorious, diminished band.
While in welcome their own crew stands.
But nobody else is there to cheer
No crowds were waiting upon the pier.
Just us few sailors. No one else knows.
None else here realize how great was their foe.
As I watch them march along
I hear again the piercing song
Of the soldier who sang out their captain’s death.
He too, I hear, fell soon to the Geth.
And where is the noble squad of Aegohr?
Where is that leaping band of war?
On alien shores their ashes lie
In a sea filled crater beneath the sky
Where never a voice is raised in song.
Where the wild sea cries out all day long
And the cold stars wheel o’er the slaughtered throng….
(Look on them Rosamund … you chose wrong.)
Aiiieh! I know. Don’t play that string
I cannot now do anything
To help those who I left behind.
I cannot make the time rewind
No matter how you twist that knife
I cannot bring the dead to life.
I can’t. And so then, let it be.
And though their deaths may fall on me
It was no crime, no false betrayal,
I chose as best as I was able,
I chose in hope that all might live.
To the greater need I tried to give
The little aid t’was mine to wield.
Too late was the likeness of need revealed.
And now there’s nothing I can do
However much my choice I rue.
The choice I rue? … Ah, there I lie!
How could I wish that man to die
Who stands so straightly by my side
How could I wish I’d made a choice
That would have stilled that rough, soft voice
That hand, that heart, had died.
Oh, twisted fate! The cruellest dart
Which gnaws and troubles at my heart,
Is that it were better that you had died,
And been in their stead left as ash on the tide.
If I stood again on that balcony
And saw there then what I now see
I would leave him behind, as he bade me do
And bring Aegohr safe to the rendezvous.
But I cannot. Oh, leave me in peace!
One true heart was saved from that fire at least.
And I cannot now do anything more
For those who were lost on Virmire’s shore.

~ Stanza 10
· The Council s Fatuity ~

I leave the restocking in Presley’s hands
I have business aboard, things to say if I can.
As I leave the dock, I hear close beside me
The lieutenant’s voice, and turning I see
Both he and Garrus, no longer in regs
But dressed in full armour, shined up and edged.
I nod and they join me, my left and my right
And come with me up to the Presidium’s height.

But when we reach the Council chambers
The Councillors will not be seen.
Though long we stand at the great white doors
And long we walk the broad courtyard floors
They will not admit my team.
This message they send, and this message alone
Delivered in writing – I near hear their groans.
We have no time to listen to legends.
We will not fuel your folly.
Forgets the myths and track down Saren!
The Reapers are fantasy.’
‘With what proof do you say that? With what but a wish?
You’re not refuting me. You but resist
The data I show you! Sneers change no facts!
We must look at what’s happened if we are to act.’
But they send no reply and we’re left standing by
Staring up at the changeless lavender sky.

~ Stanza 11
· An Hour on the Presidium ~
‘Shepard, Alenko – I’d heard you were here.’
‘Captain?’
Anderson’s standing near.
I’d though he was off in the vastness of space
Yet here he stands, still in the same place.
When we ask him why, he answers merely
They have him assigned at the Embassy,
And asks us to come and speak with him,
Tell him of the ship, of the battle, of Sovereign.
Here has the world gone on as before
With its trade and politics, petty wars.
A Batarian terrorist hijacked an astroid
We were redirecting that it might avoid
Terra Nova colony. He killed the team there
And tried to hurl it to the colony’s air.
A commando team stopped him and took it back.
But we didn’t catch the terrorist, Balak.
And another tale that troubles me
Far more than Balak’s violent deeds
Is that of an Admiral murdered by men
Kidnapped, experimented on ere his end.
He was investigating the missing soldiers
I found slaughtered on Edolus’ boulders.
The culprit’s an organisation
Which goes by the name Cerberus.
Though little is known of its deeds or intentions
Tales have sometimes come to us.
A human supremacist organisation
At the expense of our alien friends.
A group which speaks of man’s domination….
And yet slaughters men.

This all was but news of a passing week,
The Captain would rather listen than speak.
He saw our reports, heard about the Mu Relay
But he fancies there is still much to say.
So to Anderson we tell the tale and fears
That I had intended for the Council’s ears
Of Liara’s work, and the beacon’s vision,
Of the Geth’s idolatry, and the words of Sovereign.
Long we speak in the green dappled light,
Of this threat from the past, of this aeons long blight.
What war were they built for? By what ancient race?
What turned them to wanton destruction cross space?
Were they used by a madman? Programmed to wipe-out
The hands that had built them, their own maker’s flout?
Or did a great weapon, built for all-out war,
Perforce must keep doing what it was built for
Till it turned on the allies, and then back on home
Till a silent machine it was left all alone –
To seek out any folk who could yet pose a fight.
And wield once again their unmeasured might.
Anderson tells us he’ll do what he may.
He’ll plead the case loudly, and look for the relay.
And I shall set sail for Noveria’s port.
Saren’s business there’s unknown. I’ll get a report.

With our captain and friend we linger awhile
Where the clear fountains laugh and the white sun-stars smile.
But in too short a time he is called, and must go.
At the ambassador’s word he now goes to and fro.

~ Stanza 12
· The Ancient Station ~
We head back through the white and gleaming city
In the unending day.
In the sounds of water and flittering ditties
And quiet speech on the quays.
I check in with sources I asked of the relay
They yet have nothing of use to say.
We’re besieged by reporters and I gladly tell
Of Saren, of Sovereign, how the Reaper Base fell.
And a lone man calls to me for I look
Like my mother Hannah, and he almost mistook
(Even here folk suffer dearth
He can’t pay for a berth on a ship back to Earth
But must live on such odd-jobs as he can.
I wonder if mother really knows this man.)

Our path crosses that of a Salarian
Who I’ve met before, one Doctor Chorban
He’s avidly studying the busy keepers
Those silent, creeping, toneless creatures.
The Keepers were here when the Asari first came
Running the station. And it still is the same.
Though folk have long dwelled in this island in space
And we have rebuilt quite a lot of the place
Our understanding’s scarcely grown.
And whence came the Keepers, what these things are,
What brought them here, and from which distant star,
Was and still is unknown.

Deep in thought I tread the ways
Of this strange and unknown place.
Down to the dock where our sleek ship waits
Past shops and dwellings, through many gates
Where perky Salarians hawk their wares
And mixed crowds fill the gleaming squares
Where never a counter or window is bare
And Asari damsels have smiles to spare
Where lively music rings in the air
Where starlight shines and coloured bulbs glare
And the Keepers creep with their empty stare.

~ Stanza 13
· The Alliance Calls ~

We leave the docks as soon as may be
Gliding out o’er the Citadel towers
Away from the Council’s stubborn seat
And the halls, and the courts, and the bowers.
Our intent is for the far icy shore
Of distant Noveria, and yet before
We can sail to the relay, Alliance Command
Hails down our vessel, and conference demands.
Hackett, Admiral of the fleet
Has an order for me
And calls a diversion of my ship
He calls back the Normandy
Back to the Sol system, back to Earth
To its orbit, to our own moon
Where a training system needs shut down
He bids – he requests – I come soon.
The training VI on Luna Base
Where young marines train for battle in space
Has gone rogue, killed cadets, overridden control
And now as if mad, the whole training ground holds.
‘We need someone to shut it down.
I know that you’re a Spectre now.
But you’re still everything that you have been
You’re still a human, an Alliance marine.
We’re calling you in, Shepard. Come soon as you can.’
For a moment I stop.
But I understand.

‘But Rosamund, a training-ground?
That doesn’t really very much sound
Urgent enough to justify
Even the length of time to fly.
Noveria may have that which our knowledge lacks
We don’t know how long til the Reapers come back.’
Liara looks up with her great blue eyes.
‘Surely the base has marines close by?’
Kaidan nods.
‘Of course we do.
That can’t be the reason. Commander?’
‘True.
We have whole fleets which orbit round.
This isn’t about the training-ground.’
‘Then why …?’ asks Liara.
‘To set precedent.
Does a Spectre come when an Admiral’s sent?
He chose the time well. It’s mere hours to Sol.
What it takes from our journey’s a very slight toll.
We have another mindless machine
Out there killing men, a malfunction I deem.
The Reapers can wait a few hours more.
It’s the smallest blip in the course of this war.’
‘Then shall we get ready?’
I smile at her.
‘I’ll need you right here. You’re doing good work.
And not you, Lieutenant. Your wounds are scarce sealed.
There’ll be battle enough when you’re fully healed.
I’ll slip in with one squad. That’s best for this job.
They’re worried that Saren’s smearing the Turians?
This is visible. I’m taking Garrus.
And the technical skill of those Quarians!
Tali will also come with us.’

~ Stanza 14
· Luna Base ~
The sky is black; as black as ink.
And the ground is as bright as salt.
It stretches away; it swells and sinks
Splashed with shadows and faults.
A soundless, airless, brilliant waste
Open above to the cold of space
Where the dust rises up from the Mako’s treads
And drops straight down in its age old beds
Where never a wind blew drifting streams
And never a rain came to wash it clean.
The barren companion of the fertile Earth
Lies in its unchanging silence.
Cold Diane looks upon warm Maia’s mirth
With a placid, icy defiance.

While in brightness she silently lies
Our little truck creeps below her dark skies,
Through lowlands and valleys and under the lips
Of rises of stone, where dust falls and slips.
Past the scout towers and past the pitfalls
Out of the line where the spy-glasses fall
Up to the circle of turrets which rise
Above the hard ground where the rogue VI lies.
‘Take the wheel Garrus – avoid and evade.’
He takes her and spins! In and out of the cannonade
Til I have disabled with cannon the guns,
Laid open the bunker – our foe cannot run.

Down the stair to the bunker’s depths
Out of the light of the Earth
Down to the thing which knows no rest
And stares out on moon fields as a curse.

~ Stanza 15
· The Bunker ~

The underground tunnels are dim and cold
The lights are red and the smell is old.
A strange prickling grows at the back of my neck.
As of unseen eyes in the dark
Whyever so empty? Where are all its mechs?
We go deeper yet none do we mark.
Yet I know they are there
In the tunnels, stark and bare
Waiting out of sight and sound
Far beneath the lunar ground

Held back deeper, why so deep
Why so far it makes us creep
To find the battle we know must come.
In the whirring chill, my squad grows dumb
And stares big eyed in every nook
Looks twice at the ground for every foot.
While in silence we follow our charts
Deeper and deeper into the heart
Of the rogue computer’s many years home.
Shadowy dim is the redding gloam.

They attack altogether, all down in the core
A hundred mockery things of war
Fighting more fiercely than wasp or ant
With their mockery guns they fight but they can’t
O’er power shields or stand up to our fire
They fall, fall in droves, by the troop they expire.

But even after the last one falls
Those eyes seem to follow our backs
We turn and we turn and we scan through the walls
For those eyes which never attack.

Deeply buried’s the VI’s core
Walled in close by the dummies of war
And long we work in the low red murk
To uncover, to open a door.
And now and oft, Tali grabs at her gun
And turns upon … nothing. It’s bare.
And Garrus will hurl down the sheeting and run
Towards an enemy … who is not there.
We post Tali guard and go on as before,
Shavings of metal scatter the floor,
Power tools scream, and not sounds of war,
And yet none of us still can ignore,
The eyes we can’t see.
We uncover the core.

~ Stanza 16
· The VI’s Cry ~
There it lies. A box. No more large than a chest.
Small and unfeatured, seeming at rest.
A little thing, to have caused so much trouble,
A silent thing, in the midst of the rubble.
The centre of all the mindless rage
The rabid thing which stole the age
From men too young to die
The waiting thing which held the base
The watching thing that haunts this place
The silent, waiting spy.
The thing which sat for decades long
Playing and playing the martial song
That we taught it long years before
What made it break the rhythm, the beat
Break out of the song it was taught by the fleet
What made this machine go to war?

I reach for the power
A shriek fills the space
A shriek of the airways that run through this place
A shriek of the light-bulbs. A shriek of the lines
Which carry the power. Sparks flash and floors whine.
‘Shepard! I’ve got something!’
I hear Tali say.
‘Shut it down! Shut it down! It’s not going to obey!’
I yank out the cords and shut the thing down
Like a light going off the cacophonous sound
Falls dead on the air
The empty lights glare.
The box sits black on the ground

‘Tali, what have you?’
She tilts her masked head.
‘Nothing, Shepard, just – something it said.
It sent out a signal, as you came near.
If I didn’t know better … Well, come and look here.’
She holds out her omnitool. I see in the glow
The dashes and dots of the words of our foe.
It is in Morse, a code I know well.
It repeats o’er and o’er, just one word
Help’

~ Stanza 17
· The Mind of the Machine ~
We leave the VI shut down in the hold
And climb back up through the bunker so cold.
Who was it calling? Who taught it to cry?
Where did it learn to seek aid from the sky?
It was not built for that. It was built just to be
A training ground tool to engage young marines.
It was never programmed to fight to the death
Nor call for aid – never taught to fear death.
And yet … I walk in untrodden wastes
What I thought was firm ground drops away out of place.
If a training VI can learn how to fear,
What of the Reapers? They surely appear
As though they were egos, as black the void
Irrational, cruel, and completely devoid
Of ought but a hunger, to impose their own will
To control, to torment, to cow, and to kill.

And how if what it seems is in fact as it is?
How if the machines in some fiendish sense – live.
Whoever built them, for what ancient war
What if their resolve to subdue to them more
Was not automatic, but their ego’s desire
What if not mere numbers, but the hell of black fire
Burned at the heart of these monsters from space?
As fear cried out of the heart of this place.

The light of the Earth breaks out o’er the land
As we step out of the mound.
It softens and mutes the black of the shadows
The hard sun strikes on the ground.
I look up, to the world of living green
Up to the world of men
The arc of umber and ultramarine
So filled beyond my ken
With life that laughs in its leaping streams
And prowls beneath oaks in its narrow denes
And soars in the garlands of sea born steam,
There life – good and ill – uncountable teems
And children laugh and young lovers dream.
It seems so near I could reach out
And touch its cloak of mist
A leap would bring my hand into
The shallows the sunlight’s kissed
And it is as far as an image of glory
Seen by a child in a sky o’er the sea.
I could go up, and my crew with me
I could, but it must not be.
For this is that which is at stake
It’s this that is threatened by that thing that waits
Out in the deep and dark of space
Scheming and plotting to bring its own race
Here to this womb of life.

That thing I had called a mindless machine
That thing which, in theory, ought to have been.
I look up again to the light.
And then turn away. For we must be gone.
I don’t know what we fight, or where it went wrong.
But I know that they’re coming. That matters far more
That wonderments why. For we are at war.
‘Shepard to Normandy, pick us up. Let’s away.
The task here is done, and there’s no time to stay.’

Mass Effect Poetry  by Charlotte Ann Kent


Note: Up to now this poem has been being published monthly on second weekends.  Now however, it is going on a short hiatus while this blog turns its focus to a rather different story.  Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard, a serial novel written in the traditional Doyle style, will be coming out next month (brief excerpt available here ~> ~*~).  The next canto of The Song of the Shepard should be published on the second weekend of August.  If either interest you, check back, or follow this blog (top of the side-bar) to get alerts on these stories sent to your inbox.
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The Song of the Shepard: Canto 5 ~ Virmire

virmire_by_sin_vraal

~ Stanza 1 · Through Alien Eyes ~
How strange to feel a memory in your mind that’s not your own.
How strange remembering thoughts not yours, and speaking in alien tones.
I can’t go through it all at once
Bit by bit it trickles down
An alien land in my subconscious
That I can’t find my way around.
I know it most in dreams at night
Then I see with altered sight
In memory of eyes which were never mine
Greeting friends of alienkind
Drowned in turmoils and caught up in joys
Fit to enrapture or to destroy
But which, when I wake, have faded away.
What dreams I dreamt, I rarely can say.
But the vision … the vision. That tortured morass.
That whirlwind of souls crying out from the past,
It starts to resolve into things I can see,
Into things I can hear – and Liara with me.
I am no telepath. I’m a human woman.
And I can’t give away second-hand visions.
But Liara can help me to train my mind
And she can see that which I have defined.
She tells me she thinks that the message was garbled
It was buried so long in the rock.
And its hugeness and chaos shakes even her.
She’s surprised I lived through the first shock.
‘How strong of will you must be, Shepard.
Or mankind is tougher than ever I heard.’
I think of that night on Eden Prime …
Till now I assumed Kaidan would have been fine.
If I’d not got him out it would just have been he
Who foresaw the Reapers, rather than me.
But now I wonder, with sharp after-fear,
And wonder what that would mean for this turbulent year.
So little by little, the Asari and I
Struggle to see through the Protheans’ eyes
What good will come, we neither can say.
But we keep on it, day after day.
And many an evening together we spend
Looking back to the beginning and on to the end
At first she seems to fear that she
Is going to annoy, offend, or bore me.
She has spent far too much time alone
Pouring in silence o’er old dusty tomes
The lonely child of her mother’s age.
The only daughter of a venerable sage.
But as time goes by, her social timidity
Mellows and fades into soft modesty.
All those decades of girlhood spent in history’s dusk
A century-old scholar on womanhood’s cusp.
Over time dimmed tales of yore we two roam
And to present Thessia’s leaping foam
In the rich womb of which the Asari were born
And looked out on the stars to a Galactic morn.
But when we look on to the future ahead….
We turn back again to the cries of the dead
And study the message, for message it is.
Though we still cannot tell what they tried to give.

~ Stanza 2
· The Council ‘s Behest ~

When we left Feros, I thought to sail
To corporate Noveria, following the tale
Of a research station, leased by Saren
An unknown lab in mountains barren
But ere we reach the Horse Head Relay
When we’ve briefly linked to a comm buoy
The Citadel Council calls to me
Speaking of intel they think I should see.
Beyond the relay of Sentry Omega
Circling young, hot Hoc
On the peopleless planet of Virmire
Just oceans and jungles and rock
Suspicious activity some time since was seen.
They sent a Salarian Task Group Team
Who only just now has reported back.
The transmission was poor and kept going black
But they have reason to think it’s related to Saren
‘You think it warrants my investigation?’
‘You’re a spectre, Shepard. This is your mission.
We just wanted to tell you your options.’
But they’ve also called to discuss with me
What they consider my multiple follies.
A Prothean ruin was destroyed.
Was that really necessary?
(Never mind that the cause was volcanoid)
But that which truly makes them wary:
Shepard stop this about the Reapers.

Forget those silly dramatic words.
The Geth are being manipulated
And, Shepard! You have fallen for it.
Focus on Saren. Forget the old myth.
There is no such thing as the Conduit!’

~ Stanza 3
· Into the Traverse ~

Back along our route we trace
Back beyond, out of Council space
Where there’s no treaties known, nor lawful commerce
Far into the breadth of the Attican Traverse.
What is it awaits us, none of us know
Rumour in plenty around the ship blows.
And Williams roundly cautions me
About the Council’s honesty
‘If you have a bear coming after you
And there’s really nothing left you can do
But sic your dog and run away …
Well, you will. It’s sad to say.
You may love your dog, but … it isn’t human.’
‘Maybe your dog, Gunnery-Chief Williams.’
But though Ashley’s example angers me
I realize what her story means.
It’s us that she’s cast as the doomed, betrayed hound,
Not knowing why or towards what we are bound.

~ Stanza 4
· Planet Approach ~

Virmire’s globe is a coruscant jewel
Of blazing jade and bright cerule.
The flames that rage across our bow,
The air which burns as we hurtle down,
Turn the blue and green a garish sheen
Glimpsed through tsunamis of tangerine.
Near the given coordinates a fortress stands
On jungly rock beside the sands
A sprawling, thickwalled, smoke-stacked maze
Pouring filth to the turquoise waves.
And all around it, in a circle,
Stand more towers like a girdle
Within the deadly bounds of which
The Salarian team hides in some niche.
‘Take a look at those defence towers,
They could knock us to the ground.’
Kaidan points out from his post at the scanners.
‘And the ship can’t go around.
They’re a bit too close to slip between
They’re in visual range. We will be seen.
But they don’t look heavily fortified,
They were probably just built for defence from the sky.’
‘Then we’ll take a ground team. To the bay, Lieutenant!
Joker, tell Garrus we’re hard on a scent.’

~ Stanza 5 · On Alien Shores ~
The Mako lands with a bounding splash.
In the hard-rayed sun bright waters lash
I throw up the hatch. Sharp air blows in.
There’s salt and a thousand strange plants on the wind.
The sea is hid beyond limestone tors
But I can hear it. The surf is at war
With the arches and pillars and cliffs of limestone
That rise all around us with green overgrown.
Hidden down amongst the arches
And winding lanes of rock
Out of the sight of enemy eyes
In the sky and tower-tops
Though splashing inlets, across drifting sands
Heaped up by the tide in bone-white shifting bands
Garrus and I and Lieutenant Alenko
Cover miles of coastlands and surf in the Mako.
On spear-like toes in the shallow shoals
Armoured crabs hunt for fishes.
Leathered wings fight in the clear noonday light
In the eddies the bending fern swishes.
Sun dappled grottos open up
Cool on either hand
Inviting me to come and see
Their pools and shaded sands.
But in a flash they are left behind
Barely seen in a moment of time.

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~ Stanza 6
· The Fall of the AA Tower ~

Once in a narrow, watery cleft
Where the Mako’s treads throw out fine rain
We run straight into a squadron of Geth.
And the rain turns into a hurricane
With the rushing of steel, the crash of their guns,
The roar of our truck as we screech on and plunge
Through deeper water and up onto drifts
As I keep her moving while our canon rifts
Open the canyon, and arches it cleaves
Scattering Geth like so many leaves.
‘They’re hunting for something. The Salarians live!
The scanners, Lieutenant! What can you give?
We can’t take the risk of having a tail…’
Ahead in the lane, massive and pale
Straddling the tiny, craggy canyon
Is a many-legged Geth like we saw on Therum.
It turns its fearful gaze…
I floor the engine.
‘Full fire ahead!’
Garrus swings his spiky head.
‘There’s isn’t room, Shepard! We’re gonna collide.’
‘You bet! Keep firing. Hold on!’ I cry.
The Mako bears straight to the blaze.
And behind us the Geth is crashed in the tide
One shot and its over.
‘Shepard. Can I try?’
The engine is smoking, our shielding is down.
As soon as we dare we pull it aground
To put out the fires and patch as we can
For the long miles ahead of winding rock strand.
Garrus can tinker, but Alenko knows
The ins and outs of the Alliance Mako.
He sets to the job with his quiet good-cheer
Efficiently, skilfully, in mongst the gears.
Together we work in the sight of the sea,
And I am strangely glad to be
Back on a trail beside the man
As though I’d been missing my own right hand.
And this fortress is Saren’s! For those were his pawns.
Eagerly, swiftly we go on,
Till stretched across an inlet broad
And rising above like a mighty rod
We come in sight of the AA tower
On the top its long range artillery glowers.
But few, few are the Geth inside
And the flights of stairs are open wide.
In a space of minutes, the tower is won,
The massive artillery thrown down in the sun
To drown in the glittering inlet below.
‘Shepard to Normandy. You’re clear to go.’
As we splash to the Mako I hear a high hum
At the border of hearing. The Normandy’s come.
The water around us rushes to meet her.
The leaves and the sand all leap up to greet her.
A white belly’s flash! And a glimpse of her wings
Just over the treetops. She’s gone. Still she rings.
In the sun fountains fall like a pouring rain
And the leaves slowly drift to the ground again.
We follow more slowly in her airy wake
In the winding trail earthbound wheels have to take.
Off to our starboard over the sea
Black thunder clouds arch and a stiff wind blows free.

~ Stanza 7
· The Third STG Infiltration Team ~
The Salarian’s coordinates lead us to a cove
Tucked between high cliffs and deep darkened groves.
In the shallow lagoon, the Normandy rests
Her long hull tickled with little wave crests.
‘I’ll put her away, Shepard.’ Garrus asks for the wheel.
As he splashes off, a Turian whoop peals.
Lieutenant Alenko and I turn away
To the discrete little camp sitting here by the bay.
On the white sand Gunnery-Chief Williams stands
In speech with a tall, lithesome, froggy man.
She looks up to see us.
‘We’re grounded, Commander.
At, least that’s what the Salarian thinks, here.’
His name is Captain Kirrahe
Of the Third STG Infiltration force.
He’s surprised to see the Normandy
And surprised by her low-hanging course.
‘An impressive feat, getting in, Commander.’
He speaks in a smooth and gallant manner.
‘But it’s not worth the risk to try it again.’
‘Well what is it you propose, Captain?’
‘Your stopping to help us is appreciated
But the task is larger than we expected.
I sent for reinforcements before our comm plight.
Until they get here … we better sit tight.’
Ashley whistles. Kaidan shifts, looks at me.
For a moment there’s only the sound of the sea.
‘We are the reinforcements.’
‘Oh. I see.’

grounded_by_graceyn-d481825
~ Stanza 8
· Report on the Base ~

Captain Kirrahe excuses himself
To speak with his officers.
I see in his face the blow this has dealt
Though he gives it no space of words.
The clouds still hang away from the coast
Rumbling and looming, but here, on this host
The sun still beats down, on the sand and the waves
On the wavering fronds, and the mouths of the caves.
A few Normandy crewmen have come off-board
To taste open air, feel the waves on the shore.
I notice Wrex, with his huge Krogan shoulders
Near, by the cliff face, clambering the boulders.
‘Commander Shepard.’
Kirrahe’s back.
‘My men and I have a plan of attack.
Let me explain about this place.
It’s more than a simple military base.
I had reason to think that it was run by Saren,
Now I’ve heard of his treachery, and I am certain.
t’s a factory of war. I’ve lost many men
In attempt to determine what happens within.
He’s cloning an army of Krogan slaves
Who they’ve managed to cure of the genophage.
If he sets these monsters loose on the world
And then lures more Krogan in hopes of that cure …
It must be destroyed. I sent for an army.
But since we don’t have one, can your team help me?’‘
We can’t do that!’
Wrex barges in.
‘That cure could save my people!
If he has one, we can’t destroy it
You little Salarian weevil!’
Kirrahe turns an immovable face.
‘The Krogan are an intractable race.
Uplifting them was a fearful mistake.
If they had an uncontrolled populace,
How much that’s now green would be laid to waste.’
The Krogan stomps forward and looms over him,
A great gnarly truck and a willowy limb.
But not a step backward does Kirrahe take.
Wrex’s rumbles out:
‘We are not a mistake.’
He looks at Kirrahe, looks at me
Then turns and stomps off, heading back to the sea.
‘Is he going to be a problem, Commander?’
‘I’ll go and talk to him, reason him over.’‘Good.
If we don’t destroy this atrocious facility
Saren’s hosts will pour out like a bloodthirsty sea
Not one wave but in measured monsoons
And the first of the waves will be sent out soon.
I’m almost glad we’ve no reason to wait.
Each day of delay draws us near to that date.’
Kirrahe goes and I turn away
‘Ma’am,’ I hear Ashley Williams say,
‘Do you really think you can talk Wrex through?’
‘Williams, this is the Krogans’s fight too.’
‘Well I’ll still keep my eye out, if it’s alright with you.’

choice_by_luckyfk-d6vmny6


~ Stanza 9
· The Krogan ~

The Krogan stands on the whitened shore
Staring over the sea
The wind and the waves and the clouds move and roar
But he stands as still as the lee
At first I think I have not been heard
But a low rumble speaks out my name:
‘Shepard,
Do you know how many Krogan children live to be carried to term?’
I do not answer, nor does he turn.
‘But one in five hundred. We dwindle, Shepard.
Dying before we are even born.’
He’s silent again, and the sea fills the space.
Rushing in. Rushing out.
‘That is their genophage.’
Suddenly past his shoulder, I see where Ashley stands
Perched up among the boulders, her rifle in her hand.
(Dammit, woman! Put that away.
There’s no call for that yet. I hope not today.)
‘Wrex this has to be destroyed.
It’s a task we simply cannot avoid.
Think what Saren is! He is your foe
Yours just like mine-’
‘But is he though?!
He is trying to cure my people!
And you would destroy that work!’
All of a sudden, his rage overspills
He grabs at his gun with a jerk.
And there we stand on the on the edge of the land
Weapons of death nose to nose in our hands.
‘Help me out, Shepard.’
He breathes out low.
‘It’s getting real hard to tell friend from foe.’
‘These aren’t your people! They’re Saren’s slaves!
Not free Krogan warriors, wild and brave.
If he has a cure, it’s a trap to enslave you!
If you’re hard-up now, think how you’ll be used
To lay waste your own as well as your foes.
And what when he needs you no more?
Is that what you want for your people, Wrex?
Pawns in a synthetic war?’
His eyes are boring down into the sand.
But his shotgun’s still clutched in his gauntleted hands.
(Don’t you dare, Ashley! I’ve got this, I say!
Can’t you see what I’m asking of him today!)
‘Wrex, I’d help if I could! I swear that I would.
Any chance that I have, I’ll do your folk good.
But help me today, Wrex. You know the stakes.
Come with me. Fight Saren. Fight him for your race!’
I hear a man running. Kaidan is coming.
And Ashley’s sight’s at her eye.
But Wrex doesn’t see. Just stares into me.
In his face, anger, pain, and reason compete.
He drops his gun by his side.
‘Alright, Shepard. You’ve done right by me
And you’re probably right about what Saren means.
I don’t like this. But, I’ll trust you on it.
Come on, let’s go get this thing over with.’

~ Stanza 10 · Laying of Plans ~
‘All well, Commander? Good. Now the plan.’
Kirrahe gestures with long green hands.
‘Going in and taking the place in force
Is out of the question now, of course.
But we’ve rigged our ship’s drive core up to explode.
What we have to do is deliver the load.
We can’t set it off a short ways outside.
The place is too solidly fortified.
We can’t just drop it, they’d take it out going down.
We have to set it to detonate inside the bounds.
A frontal attack is hopeless, yes.
But I think we could pierce their first defence
Perhaps even take out these first two big towers.
To do any more … we haven’t the power.
But what we can do is distract from you.
A shadow team might well sneak through.
Such a team could never capture it
But it might take out enough guns to admit
One quiet, hard to see ship
Carrying the explosive within it.
I’ll give you the details that my scouts have found
I think you could pierce through, here, from the sound,
If, that is, we’ve claimed their defence
And the main force is off at the opposite entrance.’
‘That might possibly work. Very well, we’re in.
But it sounds very hard on your team, Captain.
And how do you plan to avoid the blast?’
‘Well, Commander, I’m not going to lie.
I expect few of us will get out alive.
Which makes this a harder favour to ask….
I’d like you to send a comm-trained marine
To handle the links between all the teams.’
He’s asking for help, and not just with the comms.
He hasn’t the men for the job he’s set on.
‘Confer with your team first and order your men.
When we’re ready to march, we’ll meet here again.
Thank-you, Commander. And, officers.’
He sweeps us a bow. ‘I shall ready my force.’

~ Stanza 11
· The Lieutenant and the Gunnery Chief ~

Kaidan’s been listening quietly
Now, as Captain Kirrahe leaves,
He turns to speak to me, mild but grim.
‘Ma’am,’ he says. ‘I should go with him.’
Ashley breaks in:
‘Not so fast, LT!’
Her high-boned face set defiantly.
‘Somebody’s got to look after the commander.
I’ll go with the Salarians. You go with her.’
‘Gunnery-Chief’ says Kaidan ‘With all due respect,
(They both understand how black is this prospect.)
I’m better qualified to take this assignment.’
‘Why is it “due respect” always is meant-’
(Oh banter, banter, go play tough.
I see what you’re doing well enough
We’ll all be in danger. This is no place
To compete to leave your companions safe.
His comm skills are better, but she’s qualified too.
I will not let Kirrahe’s prediction come true.)
‘Alenko,
I need you on Shadow to handle the bomb.
You know what you’re doing. And that can’t go wrong.
It’s the critical point of this whole costly mission.
Williams.’
‘Yes, Ma’am?’
‘You’re with the Salarians.’

~ Stanza 12
· Shadow Team ~

Ready and armed is the Normandy’s team
We’ve been over the maps with the scouts and their schemes.
Every outer defence work on the facility
Has been considered intensively.
All standing in view of the Normandy’s course
Have been noted and marked, and assigned to a force.
Kaidan’s been briefed on the ship’s drive-core
It’s safely set-up and been carried aboard.
‘Alenko, Garrus, you’re on Alpha with me.
Wrex, Tali Zorah, Dr. T’Soni,
You are Squad Bravo. Our name’s Shadow Team.
If we do this right we should barely be seen.
Wrex?’
‘Shepard?’
‘You’re in command of Bravo Squad.
I’m counting on you. Take care of your charge.’

‘Captain Kirrahe, I’ve readied my crew.
Gunnery-Chief Williams will go with you.
We’ll pick your force up. Mark a rendezvous for me.
I will give it to the Normandy.’

~ Stanza 13
· The Assault Team ~

Along the sands the Salarians stand
In three well-ordered, armoured bands
They far outnumber my little ground-crew
And yet they are still so few, so few.
In the central position is Mannovai Squad
The heaviest armoured and the most large.
They are the main force, the assault’s spearhead.
Captain Kirrahe will march at their head.
On the port flank is a smaller squad, Jaëto
Lighter, with longer range weapons to throw,
To provide cover fire for the main stem.
Commander Rentola is leading them.
The starboard wing-squad they’ve called Aegohr,
A lean, light, deadly band of war.
Ashley Williams has been placed in command
For she’s a marine well trained to such stands
She will march at the head of a Salarian band
And serve as an alien captain’s right hand.

‘All of you know the mission at hand.
You know what is at stake.
I have come to trust all of you with my life.
And trust you to do what it takes.
But I have heard murmurs of discontent.
I share them. In the fullest extent.
We were trained for espionage.
Glory in battle is not our way.
We would be legends, but the records are sealed.
Think of our heroes of bygone days.
The Ever Alert,
Who kept armies at bay with hidden facts
The Silent Step,
Who defeated a nation with single shot.
These giants do not seem to give us solace here
But they are not all that we are.
Before the network, there was the fleet,
The Salarians too have fought open wars.
And thus, as Mannovai I have named you,
Aeghor Squad, and the Team of Jaëto.
To remember the worlds we have fought for before
And remind us why we now fight on these shores.
Our influence stopped the Rachni
But before that, we held the line.
Our influence held back the Krogan,
But before that, we held the line.
Today our influence will stop Saren
Today, we shall hold the line!’

~ Stanza 14
· Parting of Ways ~

Ashley turns with a troubled brow.
Aegohr is waiting. We march out now.
‘Ma’am, Kaidan, I just wanted to say,
It’s been a real honour, serving with you.’
Kaidan shakes his head, says gently:
‘Hey,
It’ll be alright, Ash. And we’ll come for you.’
‘Godspeed, Williams.’ I give her my hand.
Her grasp is firm and brief.
She turns to Kaidan. He smiles at her.
‘See you on the other side, Chief.’

shadow_by_graceyn-d4818nt2

~ Stanza 15 · The Assault ~
Now in the thickets the insects chirp
And I scarcely can hear the sound of the surf.
For hours we’ve travelled o’er cliffs, and through briars,
Through leafy brushes, and through stagnant mires
We heard the fortress a long ways away
It rumbles and roars and its glaring horns bray.
Now loudly it echoes in the dank, stinking gorge
Where through dark, oily water, we six shadows forge.
The signal rings. Mannovai strikes.
Alarms ring out in the glaring light.
And quietly softly, Shadow Team
Slips to the rampways up from the streams.
Forward, Mannovai! Fear no Geth!
It’s they, not us, who should fear death!’
Though we hear the battle over our coms
The loudest sound here is our muffled door bombs.
And the sound of our footsteps as we break away
Our two squads going our separate ways.
Aegohr! Heads up! Fliers coming in.
They’re banking east on the storm-cloud’s wind!’
We pass through long chambers lined with tanks
Rank upon rank upon rank upon rank
In their darkness we glimpse monstrosities
Huge and deformed and loathsome to see
Krogans set to be born full-grown
For one, but one, purpose alone.
How Saren now has filthied his hands!
Before, they were bloodstained with my peaceful lands.
Now they are foetid with perversion of flesh
An assault to the race beloved by Wrex.
Watch out! We have Krogan! Jaëto, cover my flank!
And take out that pesky, incoming tank!’
Few Geth do we see til we reach an AA gun
The skirmish is short and we sabotage, run.
But there’s more than the Geth that haunt this place
Asari, and members of my own race,
Starched and manicured scientists,
Who, shrieking, turn and flee before us
But others creatures rush to the fray
With a mad abandon to tear and to slay.
My heart grows hot as blue burns in my hands.
These are captured Salarians.
We cannot recapture them, we’ve no men or gear
We fight them off, open doors, disappear.
Good going, Aegohr! But don’t be too fleet.
But don’t push too hard. Don’t push a retreat!’
When we find where Saren’s office lies
We leave our path and turn aside.
The heavy, seamless, unlit door
Is sealed tight to the walls and floor.
Alenko and Garrus together work
To hack through codes while I, guarding, lurk.
Again, o’er the coms, bold Kirrahe cries
Above the battle’s screech:
Aegohr! Jaëto! You know your targets.
We will hold the breech!’
Kaidan looks up. ‘Got it, Commander.’
The door slides slowly aside
A cold draft breathes from the black doorway
And the three of us step inside.

~ Stanza 16
· Sovereign ~

Our booted feet drum with lonesome sound
On a hollow deck far above the ground.
The floor is lost in the dark below.
Ahead stands a tall and wavering glow
Humming, Humming, a humming I know
A rising pillar that faint light throws.
It rings in the ear and draws at the eye.
‘Just like the one on Eden Prime.’
I hear Kaidan say.
I step away.
‘Stand back, you two. I’ll be just fine.
Remember, I have the cipher this time.’
I let it draw me to the light and sound
My booted feet lift off the ground.

I hit the deck and crumple
Black surging at my eyes
All seems around to crumble
As did the ancient sky.
But I see! I see! As I didn’t before.
And I jump up straight from the cold metal floor
Saying to Kaidan, to Garrus, to me:
‘I have it! I saw!’
‘What did you see?’
‘Many things, horrible. But I saw a place…
Tell me, how long since we entered this space?’
‘Moments, really.’
‘So short? Are you sure?
It seems in the meantime that I have seen worlds.
I must see Liara! Let’s go at once.
We’d find nothing better here searching for months.’
I turn to go, but a sudden sound
Rings at my back, o’er my head, from the ground
A rumble almost too low to be heard
It speaks from the dark, forming ponderous words.
‘You are not Saren.’
Where the Prothean Beacon stood
Now glows mass of red
A many jointed, loathsome image
Like the ancient beacon bled
Out its torment to the air
In a fiery form that casts no glare
And yet engulfs and hides the light
Of the beacon, green and bright.
I feel the brush of Garrus’s carapace
‘Shepard, it’s just a VI interface.’
‘What are you?’ I ask. ‘Who is it that speaks?’
The sound continues. Sonorous. Bleak.
‘Rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh,
You fumble here in ignorance.’
Garrus’s form beside me has stiffened
‘Or, I guess … maybe it isn’t.’
‘There is existence you cannot imagine.
I am beyond your comprehension.
I am Sovereign.’
The wayward red lines resolve in my mind
And I’m back in the vale on Eden Prime
Looking up at the curse over valley and cliffs.
I start like a wakening sleeper.
‘Sovereign isn’t a Reaper ship
Sovereign is a Reaper.’
‘An actual Reaper?’ Kaidan whispers back.
Garrus clicks his mandibles beside in the black.
‘Reaper? A label used by the Protheans
To give voice to the agent of their destruction.
Their choice of terms is irrelevant.
Organic life is an accident.
Your lives are measured in days and years.
You wither and you die.
Your extinction is inevitable.
You quibble to defy.
The Protheans did not forge the Relays.
They did not build the Citadel.
They found them, as you did. Our technology.
You develop as we intend you shall.
We impose on the chaos of Organic life
The order which we forge by strife.
Your civilizations hurry
To rise to the pre-set mark.
Then, at the apex of their glory
We plunge them into dark.’
Beside, on my right, I hear Kaidan move.
‘Where are all the rest of you?’
‘We are legion.
We are coming.
You exist because we allow it.
You will end, because we demand it.
We are eternal.
Before us you are nothing.
We are the pinnacle of evolution.
We are the end of everything.’
As the huge sound spoke from out of the black
My heart grew cold and my hands grew slack.
A vision spreads like a poisoned draft…
Then Sovereign’s words strike home like a shaft
The dark spell breaks.
And I almost laugh.
‘Both the end point of a growth in time
And that which transcends it?
My! How great you Reapers must be
To o’er’ride the rules of logic!
No, don’t bandy words with me,
Or don’t say silly thingsBoth of these you cannot be.

My thoughts like yours take wing.
Oh, self-claimed pinnacle of evolution,
To claim that title, the revolutions
Of the spinning galaxy which you have seen
Must of a countable number have been.
What if you pre-date the Prothean race?
What if you’re the biggest bludgeons in space?
You’ve seen length of time, and that is all.
The Galaxy itself is still but small.
You’re not omnipotent, what’ere you pretend.
You began. So you can end.’
‘Confidence born of ignorance.
The Cycle cannot be broken.
The pattern has repeated itself
More times than you can fathom.’‘
And what is the point, the end goal of all this?!
What leads you to lurk in the empty abyss
For thousands of years in wait for your prey?
It can’t be resources. It wouldn’t seem slaves.
Is this just a giant ego-trip?
Tell me, who built you enormous ships?’
‘Your understanding my kind transcends.
You cannot grasp our mode of existence
We are each a nation independent,
Free of your Organic weakness.
We will darken the sky of every world
When you are long dead, we still will endure.’
‘Well we, like you, can fruitfully strive,
Let your failure on Eden Prime stand as token.
You aren’t even truly alive!
You’re a machine! And machines can be broken.’
‘Your words are empty deconstructions
Empty as your future.
I am the vanguard of your destruction.
This exchange is over.’
Overhead is the shrieking of shattering glass
We shield our heads as the fragments slash past.
When we look up the red figure is gone.
There’s only the beacon, burning on.

~ Stanza 17
· Fall of a Captain ~

Back to the day and the glare of the sun,
The distant booming of charges and guns.
I hadn’t heard them, down there in the room
I’d almost forgotten their sound in the gloom.
We don’t stop to speak, to look round at the world,
To ask of each other, what have we heard?
We run on without words more swift than before
While, out of sight, the armaments roar.
A voices cries out o’er the intercom
In a voice so long it is almost a song.
Captain Kirrahe is fallen!
He lies among the Geth!
Aegohr, Jaëto, your banner is fallen.
Take it up and avenge his death!’

~ Stanza 18
· Planting the Bomb ~

Deep inside the fortress, a high walled courtyard lies
Open to the sharp sea air and the blazing skies
Within its walls a turbid flood of brown and sluggish water moves
Whether design or mark of war naught that I can see will prove.
‘Alenko, does this alter our plan?’
He shakes his head.
‘I don’t think so, Ma’am.
The drive core exterior should take the damp
If it’s not messed up during transit or preamp.
Actually, it might be a kind of good thing,
Make it harder to see, if someone comes looking.’
‘Well then … Joker, this is Shepard here.
All squads have checked in. Alpha’s on-site. You’re clear.’
Moments later I hear her hum
Swift, over walls, under towers she comes
And splashes down low to the filthy flood.
It stains her silver like ancient blood.
‘Attention! This is Shadow Team. The Normandy’s through.
Pull the retreat. Head back to the rendezvous!’
As the great door lowers to the filthy damp
Kaidan springs past me and jumps to the ramp
I hear his voice directing the sailors,
His straightforward, gravely, matter-of-fact words.
Then he re-emerges in a circle of men
Shuffling, the heavy core carried between them,
Down the ramp to the water below
And through it off to a little alcove.
There he bends down, low in the brown
At work at what seems a small brazen mound.
Across the water, Bravo stands
Tali leaning on Wrex’s hand
He scoops her up and bears her over
While behind, fair Liara skims through the water.
‘Alpha Team, stay. All hands else aboard!
To the rendezvous, Joker, but don’t go straight toward.
Make a fuss elsewhere, distract from this spot.
But mind the gun schemes, and be there on the dot.’
Suddenly a voice calls out in my ear,
Shouting sternly through gunfire and cries of fear.
‘Commander! You there?’
‘Williams? Are you alright?’
‘My squad’s been pinned down and we’re getting fried.
Up by the second of the big front guns.
We’re gonna have trouble making this one.’
Kaidan looks up.
‘Go, Commander.
I’ll be a few minutes here, you go help her.
We can meet up again at the rendezvous.’
‘You have the coordinates?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Right then. Wrex! Is Tali alright?’
‘Ah, nothing much, suit torn in the fight.
She did pretty good for a Quarian.’
He speaks with bright brashness, but he too is bleeding.
‘Well get her on board. Joker!– Area scan.

Garrus! Liara! Aegohr needs more hands.’
By the time we’ve sloshed to the opposite door
The Normandy is gone
And I scarcely can see the green clad marine
Bent o’er the half covered bomb.

~ Stanza 19
· The Call ~

Whilst we run, we tell Liara
In a couple of short-breathed words
What we found in Saren’s office
And the thing which we there heard.
If not for the time pressed down upon us
I’d stop and show her now.
It would take just a moment, then we would know.
But – soon as time will allow.
Ahead, I see the tower rise
Behind, the courtyard evades my eyes.
But – maybe its merely a mischievous echo,
Or maybe Geth fight with some phantom foe –
But back down deep where I cannot see
The shrieking of plasma comes sharply to me.
We ran the scans! The place was clear!
There shouldn’t yet be Geth so near.
I snatch at my comm.
‘Alenko! Report.’
The delay’s just a moment. Really quite short.
Then the plasma and gunfire, close in my ear,
Then Kaidan’s voice.
‘Alenko here-’
He breaks off again, as if torn from his answer.
‘Lieutenant! Are you headed to the rendezvous?’
More crashing and fire.
‘No, Commander.
They’ve found my location…’
‘Do I need to come help you?’
No! I’ve got this. Just a minute, hold on.’
Seconds pass.
‘I’ve just set the bomb.
I’ll keep the Geth off it, Ma’am. Go. Ashley needs you.’
Another voice breaks in. Ashley has listened.
‘Fiddlesticks! They found him! Go help the lieutenant!’
‘Negative!’ he cries. ‘I can hold them off!’
(I believe him. He will. While we soar aloft.
I’ve placed the mission’s crux in his hands
And he’ll keep the trust. He won’t come. He’ll stand.
I’ve ordered that man to suicide!)
‘Go, Ma’am!’ he says.
Then from Ashley’s side:
‘Rosamund Shepard, listen to me!
You heard the lieutenant. You know what he means.
Don’t let him do it! Go help him get through!
Commander! You know it’s the right thing to do.’
In a moment’s flash I see them both
She and Aegohr are fighting to break through a host
But Kaidan will stay to the death at his post.
‘Alenko, hold your ground, I’m coming.
I haven’t okayed any suicide missions.
Keeping trying, Ash. I’m still coming for you.’
‘ … Okay, Ma’am.’ she says.
Then just gunfire comes through.

~ Stanza 20
· Running ~

Over the ground which we passed so fast.
Quicker this time than even the last.
Doors crash before us in bursts of blue.
Each second I grudge, each second I rue.
Every moment’s one less til I retrace again
These steps towards the tower and Ashley’s men.
Every moment my chance of getting to her,
Each moment my chance of keeping my word
Slips farther away. Have I chosen right?
I haven’t unless Ashley wins that fight.
But how can I leave a man behind
With no chance of escape? Just leave him to die?

~ Stanza 21 · Back to the Post ~
Water surges brown and swift
Within the sun-beat walls
And sharp and hard the bright air rifts
With plasma shotgun’s calls.
I see the Geth, bright gems of death
Lashing through the shallow depths
But I don’t see Kaidan, in my first scan
It’s when I look back that I see the man.
From behind the rippling glimmer
Of a quick set-up tech-shield
Down beside the brazen lump
In the niche beside the field
A splash of green is pouring lead
Towards any foe that shows its head.
And now a mass tries to rush the post
And a burst of blue hurls back the most
While others jerk from an overload purge
And tumble back to the shallow surge.
To his side we race, our guns a’cry
In the splashing murk and the sun’s hard eye
Against the Geth, the many Geth.
Where in the nearby corridors’ breadth
They hid from our scans, there’s no way to know
But they number greater than I had hoped.
‘Shepard! Incoming!’
Garrus cries.
Pointing his claw o’er the roofs to the skies.
‘Pull back to the post!’
I shout.
‘Pull in dense!
Liara!
I want a biotic aerial defence!
Kaidan!
Maintain that shielding and keep up ground fire!
Garrus!
With me! Let’s take out those fliers!’
We pull back beside Kaidan, fighting low from the flood,
Crouched down at his post.
The pool’s dark with blood.

~ Stanza 22
· Saren Arturius ~

The fliers swoop down; there’s a Turian form
Perched on a glider leading the swarm.
From the air he can see what the ground troops did not.
I see in his face. He knows what we’ve got.
With a silent gesture he raises his claw,
Halting his troops. He opens his maw.
‘Well, Shepard, I am impressed.
Your little distraction had me convinced.
I was sure the Salarians were the real threat,
Until I saw you turning back on your steps.’
‘The real threat is that pal of yours, Sovereign!
You know what the Reapers did to the Protheans!
You know what they plan for us!
And you would still help Sovereign bring them back?
Are you mad, Arterius?’
‘No.
I know better than you what became of the fallen.
Shepard, we have no hope against them.’
‘And that’s a reason for betraying us all?!’
‘You do me injustice. The Protheans fall
Was brought on by their fruitless attempt to fight.
There can be no defence against the Reapers’ might.
They’ll come whether I, or anyone aid them
But I can prove Organics’ worth to them!
They won’t throw away tools that have proved themselves fit.
Shepard, this is why spectres exist,
To do the ugly things which must be done
And make the calls from which little men run.
They won’t kill us all if I can just make them see.
Shepard, save your race. Join me.’
‘You would betray all those that breathe
In the hope we can live on as slaves?
I sooner would see us honestly dead
And our every structure razed
Than live as the playthings and tools of the Reapers
Than exist as the chattel and thralls of the Reapers
Even if there was reason to think that the Reapers
Even desire slaves!’
‘No, they can be reasoned with!
Shepard, I am sure of it!’
‘You fool!Do you think that such as Sovereign is
Will truly honour your service?
Will he not rather throw you away,
The minute you’ve served his purpose?
You know what he does to other minds,
How they’re trammelled and subjugated!
Do you think you alone are exempt of your kind?
You are indoctrinated!
Escape him. Come with me! We can fight the Reapers.
But, Saren, we’ll have to work together!’
‘No!
Sovereign will not indoctrinate me
A mindless tool would not serve his needs.
You work against your own people, Shepard.
You’ll bring them all to doom.
In fighting those who cannot be fought
You build your race’s tomb!’


~ Stanza 23
· Fight at the Bomb Site ~

And the rattle and the brattle of the rifles to the battle
And the crash boom bang biotic fields
And the screaming of the plasma and the flashing bright miasma
And the ramming slamming bamming on our shields
Kaidan fighting right beside me, and Liara just behind me
As her field above us strains and shrieks but holds
And the battle cries of Garrus, and the darting Geth which dare us
To pursue them where the walls do not enfold.
And the lashing of the water and it’s splashing and its splatter
As its slammed in waves and churned with falling Geth
And the burning of the air, and the smoke and heat that tears
And the crash that slams the breath out of my chest.
A slippery claw – my throat is seized.
He drags me up. My eyes are going blind.
Just a Turian maw – grey as a frieze.
I hear my comrades’ voices far behind.
Dammit, Saren! There’s no time for this!
Humming nearer, I hear my ship.
I strike. A slug to the foul maw
And the glider jerks and rocks
I wrench as I feel a slip of the claw
And down through the air I drop.
I plunge to the water and throw off the black,
The Geth have streaked off and the Normandy’s back.
‘Joker!
Main target fleeing at your two o’clock!
Alpha Squad!
Come! We’re taking off!’
At the foot of his post, in the loathsome flood
Kaidan is struggling to stand.
He who held a battalion – struck down in the sludge
I go to him, take his strong hand,
And rise from the pool straightening under the weight
Of the soldier borne over my shoulders.
They’re calling to us from the Normandy’s gate.
I grip him and trudge through the water.
My tread strikes the ramp. I feel the ship rise.
I glance back and we’re looking down from the skies.
I bite down a cry to turn back.
Our starship is leaving. We’re fast skyward bound.
Our time has run out. There’s no turning round.
The Normandy cannot go back.
‘Commander! We’ve got a bogie ahead!
It’s huge! And if I made that turn it would shred-’
‘Joker! Engage the FTL drive!’
‘This close to the ground? Commander-’
‘Try!
A short range jump along the grav-well curve!
Go! Do it now!’
‘Aye, aye, Commander.’
The great bay fills with the crash of the door.
In the clamour I lift up my voice
‘Did Aegohr make it?! Is Williams on board?!’
(Our hands are still gripped like a vise)
‘Jaëto and Mannovai made the rendezvous, Ma’am.’
Below, a crack tolls. And the FTL slams.

virmire

As Regards The Re-appearance of Commander Shepard

yim-copy
(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

The Song of the Shepard: Canto 1 ~ The Attack Upon Eden Prime

Unknown Threat by Orioto
© Bioware  –  Introduction
~ Stanza 1· The Departure of the SSV Normandy ~

Above the warmth of air we rise
Through the frosty turbulent skies
To where the blaze of heat and light
Clashes with black in the roofless heights.
Our ship is new, her lines are clean
The crew is eager to fly
Before us is Space, the seen and unseen
In the untold depths of the sky.
We leave Earth behind – we’re out past the moon.
We turn the ship’s prow from the Sun’s golden noon
And sail, sail away more fleet than a ray
Of that glorious, brilliant, ancient day.

We’re embarked on our vessel’s maiden flight,
Her first dive to the deep night’s sea.
A shakedown run for the young prototype,
The stealth frigate Normandy.
She’s set for a colony claimed by mankind
Renowned for its beauty, called Eden Prime.
I’ve worked on the moon and I’ve put by on Mars.
I’ve walked other planets, around distant stars
My boot has marked lands where no human has dwelt
I’ve trained among alien asteroid belts
From my youth starships have been my home.
And they still are now that I am grown.
For proudly I tread where my parents trod
An Alliance marine, before man, before God.
For ten years I’ve guarded and fought and served
And many have heard the name Rosamund Shepard.
But though I’ve seen much in my thirty-years time
I’ve never set foot on fair Eden Prime.

Pluto the frozen looms up and goes by,
We’ve dropped out of light speed. The Mass Relay’s nigh.
I tread the command deck up to the bridge.
The Relay’s ahead; it pulses, glows
A huge black curve and a whirligig
Spinning, spinning, juxtaposed
Across the speckled field of night
Swiftly drawing huger, near.
Work of an ancient massive might.
The stations call. ‘All go! We’re clear!’
And the Normandy dives to the light.

~ Stanza 2 · The Pilot, the Co-pilot, and the Council-Spectre ~

A billion miles from our former place
We come to rest in the calm of space.
Off the bow is sweet riot of black and light.
From the bow, gulfs of glory blaze clear to my sight.
The constellations are different from here.
Greater the bright Milky Way appears.
Far off there burns a sparkle of green,
Eden Prime reflecting an alien sun’s beams.
Joker, the pilot, leans back in his chair
With a smug little grin and a triumphant flair.
Beside me stands a tall grim Turian.
Nihlus he’s called, a rust faced alien,
A member of an allied race
And an agent of the Council of civilized space.
I’m accounted tall, for a daughter of men
But I stand barely up to his mandibled chin.
Armour sheathes his wasp-like waist
His face is covered in natural plates
Which are splashed with war-paint in bold white stripes
And jab back from his temples in sword-like spikes.
He reported to the captain while we were ashore.
But I’ve not been told why a Spectre’s on board.
He nods at the pilot magnanimously.
‘That was quite good for a relay leap.
It will please your captain.’
He turns and goes.
His footfalls fade to mere echoes,
Joker grumbles and mutters:
‘I hate that guy.’
And turns to the helm, his fuzzy face wry.
The co-pilot beside him, Lieutenant Alenko
(A marine like myself; dark-haired, sturdy fellow)
Glances up from his work from the second helm station.
‘Nihlus gave you a compliment, so … you hate him?’
I hear the two of them debating our guest,
Only half listening, my mind’s on our quest.
And my eyes are on the green sparkle ahead.
Though Joker has left what Nihlus said,
(That leap was “incredible” not just “good”)
And has now declared the guy’s up-to-no-good.
He doesn’t trust Turians or those agents the Spectres
And elaborates this in a portent projecture.
While Alenko counters we have no sound reason
To accuse the stern Nihlus of ill-will or treason.
(The Turians helped us design this new frigate.
And Citadel Council would of course ask to see it.)
Over the com, a deep voice is heard:
‘Commander Rosamund Shepard?’
I hear my Captain call my name,
Anderson, my father’s friend, of great and well won fame.
His voice is serious, almost grim
As he summons me down to speak with him.
I wonder aloud whence comes his gravity,
The source is more than I can see.
The pilot shrugs and resettles his hat.
‘Oh, Captain Anderson? He just sounds like that.’
Alenko half smiles, I hear him aver:
‘That’s just when he’s talking to you, Joker.’

~ Stanza 3 · Distress Call ~

Down in the com-room, Nihlus stands alone
A strange and fearsome figure, clothed in living bone.
He turns to greet me with words smooth and fair,
Hissing through his lipless mouth, in the quiet air.
Mere light pleasantries his speech seems to be,
Small inquiries and praise o’er the Eden Prime colony.
But his manner is probing, of what I can’t tell.
Not of that colony. I don’t know it well.
He turns to another; Elysium,
And the day when Batarian pirates had come.
It’s me that he’s probing. That day is well known.
I was there. I rallied resistance alone
And led colony’s folk in defence.
Til the Alliance sent reinforcements.
But what significance does the tale hold for Nihlus?
He is coolly but quite clearly curious.
As we converse he watches appraisingly.
I wonder, what must a Turian see?
I am called beautiful among my own race
Stalwart of bearing, fine-featured of face.
But to Nihlus, how shelless my pale skin must seem
How little beside him, and stocky, I deem.
How strange my soft curtain of short crimson hair
Must look to a head so horny and bare.
As we speak, firm steps sound down the corridor.
Captain David Anderson strides in the door.
His strong frame is tall, his brown face is dark.
On his blue uniform, bright medals spark.
A red stripe runs down to his wrist from his shoulder,
The uniform mark of an N7 soldier,
The toughest within the Alliance Fleet.
I too wear the stripe, though I’ve not yet his feats.
He tells me our shakedown run’s only a cover.
The SSV Normandy’s been sent to recover
An intact Prothean beacon from Eden Prime.
No greater discovery’s been made in our time.
‘Its big, Shepard, big. Most seen for many lives.
There’s been none bigger since the Mars archives.’
What this might do for our technology…’
Now Nihlus’s presence is clear to me.
The Protheans were an an alien race
Whose crumbling monuments are seen across space
The first humans found were those archives on Mars
Through them we learned how to fly to the stars
With the mass effect principle which draws on dark energy
By sending a calculate stream of electricity
Through element zero, a substance strange
Which seems to exist between the two planes.
And thus for a little, a lot is returned
And greatly less fuel does a ship have to burn
To accelerate up past the speed of light.
Thus the Protheans taught us FTL flight.
(This element’s a fair but a dangerous thing
Many have died from its touch.
And yet, when it imprints on young human cells
It teaches them that which it knows itself
Those that live can themselves do as much.
The mass effect principle in living form
Biotics they call them. Thus, was I born.)
Some Prothean relics in deep space lurk.
They say that the whole Relay system’s their work.
And built of the same massive workmanship
Is the great Citadel where the Council sits.
But rarely we find ought else intact.
A working com beacon? I’ve not heard of that.
Of course the Council sent out a Spectre
He’s here to protect it. It’s quite past conjecture.

Over the com speakers, Joker’s voice chimes.
‘Captain! Com-link from Eden Prime!’
On the opposite wall a screen lights up.
In the quiet room gunfire erupts.
A man is shouting they’re under attack.
He stumbles and falls and does not come back.
Now only sky can we see on the screen,
Red turbulent clouds like I’ve never seen.
And darkly through them, like a great fingered hand
There reaches a shape grasping out toward the land.
Nihlus, the captain, and I breathless watch
As it slides through the sky.
The signal is lost.
‘Well’ says Anderson, ‘this changes things.
Suit up, Commander! Let your feet grow wings.
I will summon Alenko and Jenkins.
Heaven and Earth – what was that thing?’

~ Stanza 4 · Colony Approach ~

Armoured in black, gloved, booted, and armed
I report to the bay to the sound of alarms.
Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko – he from the bridge,
In quiet stone green armour
And eager Rich Jenkins – worked-up just a smidge,
Swinging a rifle on his shoulder,
Are ready; two sturdy, bold Marines.
We three make a standard Alliance recon-team.
Jenkins once lived here, some years before
And scarce seems to believe that below there is war.
He’s anxious to get there and join in the fight
Yet he seems too buoyant, too sure its alright.
We’re coming in close for the door opens in.
The captain raises his voice o’er the wind,
Tells us where to find the beacon dig-site
And tells to get there, go not left nor right.
‘But what about survivors, Captain?’
Alenko’s rough voice calls the question.
‘That beacon is your top priority!
It must not fall to the hands of an enemy!
I’ve sent for help. It will here soon.
Get in. Stay low. And secure that beacon.
It’s probably the target. Understood?’
‘Yes, Sir!’ I say.
I know full well that should
A foe be the one to gain the new knowledge
All of our colonies would lose an edge.
‘Approaching the drop zone!’ Joker tells us.
‘Hey, Nihlus!’ calls Jenkins ‘You coming with us?’
Out of the shadows the Turian comes,
With a feline grace. He shoulders his gun.
‘I move faster alone.’ he says.
And is gone,
Empty and bare is the hatch he stood on.
The Normandy’s slowed and swooped down low.
My squad leaps out to the ground below.

~ Stanza 5 · Death in Eden Prime ~

She’s gone, and we stand in a vast and lovely land.
Below us stretch away rich rolling ploughed lands.
Behind us rough crags, red in the low light
Rise up crowned with leaves, to steep, lofty height.
A sharp distant bark of crackling gunfire
Shatters the evening, makes the calm scene a liar.
Our prototype stealth ship swooped quietly
Under the ridge, dropped us off in the valley
Away from the gaze of enemy eyes
And whatever that was looming large in the skies.
But just over the ridge, just out of our sight
Lies the colony centre, and a terrible fight.
Quickly we climb through bramble and tree.
I look to the skies, but no dark shape I see.
As we pass through a green and mossy dell
A large form moves, which I cannot see well.
It floats from the brush, a lumpish grey mass.
Two of us startle, but Jenkins laughs.
‘They call ‘em “gas-bags”. They aren’t any harm.’
I lower the gun I have raised in alarm.
He’s right, the thing ambles – or drifts – right by.
Scarcely noticing we three passers-by.
Still chuckling he trots ahead, to the next bend.
‘It’s clear.’
And he goes.
We hear the air rend.
We seize our weapons, break into a run,
Dash to the corner. But we see no one.
In the air, by a ledge, a tiny globe hovers
Dipping and whirring, behind follow others.
We let loose a volley of gunfire pale.
We lash and we hurl them across the steep vale,
With forces unleashed from our empty hands
In streams of blue light, fierce swift-streaking strands,
Seizing the drones in strong scintillating fields
Biting right through the shell of their shields.
For Alenko and I are biotics both
And we throw down the drones to the undergrowth.
Their blasts fly about us, some find a mark.
Hot plasma against my biotic field sparks.
Though I stagger beneath the force of the blow,
I am untouched, protected below.
When the last globe burns and falls to the ground.
We call out for Jenkins and look all around.

At the foot of the slope lies a silent form, grey
We reach for our omni-tools, run down, and assay
To render him aid. But he’s far and gone.
Red is the stony bank he lies on.
Alenko stares down at the man on the rock
His white face is filled with what seems to be shock.
I know that ere now he’s seen battle and war
But his voice has grown smaller than it was before.
‘He didn’t have time to put up his shields.
He hadn’t a chance!’
Life’s blood soaks the field.
‘Sometimes soldiers die. You have to go on.’
I seek to rouse him, we have to be gone.
He nods, mumbles ‘Yes, Ma’am’, and raises his head.
We stow our omni-tools and leave the dead.

~ Stanza 6 · The Gunnery-Chief ~

Onward, quickly, the dig-site is near.
Distant crashing and shouting and gunfire I hear.
Then close, through a thicket, harsh shots ring out.
Gleaming steel figures leap all about.
A lone human woman, swift, pink, and white,
Is running and shooting in outnumbered fight.
Without a word we abandon the path.
Through brambles and briars and boulders we crash.
Strange vining plants tangle round ankles and heads
Alenko rips free and plows on ahead.
For a moment I see him burning blue
Hear the crack of his gun, see his shots fire true.
See the light from his hands hurl the Geth to the cliffs
And then I’m beside him. The outcome is swift.
The lone woman turns to us, panting and worn,
Her tall form is straight, her armour is torn.
She thanks us in tones both martial and warm
Her face speaks of woes she’s had no time to mourn.
Her enemies scattered about on the ground,
Are robotic bipedals, lean as bloodhounds.
Those long curving heads … I recognize “Geth”.
I’ve never met one, but I know they bring death.
They’ve never been seen out in human space,
And why they’re here now in this quiet place…
I turn to the woman, her story is brief.
‘My name’s Ashley Williams, Gunnery-Chief.
My unit is dead, wiped out by the Geth.
They’re here coming after our beacon, I bet.
Well, I’m after it too! It’s just to the south.’
She’s calm and collected, I see she has nous.

~ Stanza 7 · The Prothean Dig Site ~

We three go on, to the lip of a dell,
A deep rounded hollow, it’s paths travelled well.
Down at the dig-site, the sun’s ray are gone
And the darkness of evening is quite far along.
The gleam and clang of a swift metal body
Slick sterilized white, shiny and gaudy,
And a Geth and more move in the shadow and stones.
The tread of their feet is like breaking of bones.
Alenko’s bright omnitool flashes,
Overloading their circuitry
His gleaming biotic force lashes
The Geth at velocity.
Williams is not a biotic
But boy can she handle a gun!
Deadly and sharp, far beyond quick
Quick and knows which way to run
My biotic warp fields crumble the Geth
Had they been alive, they would now know death.
Unliving, unbreathing, insensate steel!
They do not live so they can’t die … or feel.
We came on them swiftly from out of the dusk
We saw them plain, but they never saw us.
They fall in the twilight down on rugged stone
And we three marines are left here alone.
We look for the beacon, but see it not.
We spread out grimly and search through the spot.
‘It was here. Been moved. By us I hope.’
Williams calls out from low on the slope.
Nihlus calls me over the com.
He thinks it’s been moved and may not be gone,
But rather conveyed to the near-by space-port,
Prepared for the Normandy’s awaited report.
He says he’ll be waiting at a tram nearby,
Tells us to be ready, but doesn’t say why.

~ Stanza 8 · The Valley of the Shadow of Death ~

Back out of the hollow, into the sun,
We take the main path from the site at a run.
Around the bend and down an avenue
The valley and sky open up to our view.
‘What is that?!’
Hanging above the broad verdant vale
As big as the ridge where we stand on the trail
Gleaming and flashing long arms of black
Sending out lightning across its huge back
Is the distant dark shape I saw in the sky.
It looms o’er the world, all’s darkened thereby.
It’s fingers or tentacles reach toward the ground.
The air is filled with a terrible sound.
‘That is the biggest ship I’ve ever seen!’
Williams exclaims as we leave the ravine.
But is it a ship?
Alenko asked well.
It’s more like a creature.
Come up out of Hell.
Down the hillside out on the plain,
Buildings and roads cross o’er the terrain.
I see the tram station, like Nihlus said,
But I see no one living – yet many dead.
One gunshot rings out. One. Close at hand.
No answer follows. A car leaves the tram.
We start down the slope, I see movement below
Dim figures running, no loping – No …
I cannot believe what I’m seeing here.
My companions’ eyes have grown large with fear.
These are humans, were humans, are not anymore.
What devilry’s been here? What act of war…?
The things swarm up the hillside, blind objects thrown
Unnaturally, without will of their own,
Stumbling and lurching … and searching, I’m sure.
They crash into our cover, and we see what they’re for.

I call ‘Open fire!’ with pity and dread.
And the three of us mow down the horde of the dead.
We’ve no words to say. What can there be said?
But I stop, ere we go, to make sure that the dead
Are cold and mere corpses and not something worse.
It’s not. They were dead. It’s a tactic perverse.
The blackness hangs still in the sky like a curse.

~ Stanza 9 · Betrayed ~

We go on. Down the slope. To the station below.
Farther down into this valley of woe.
The station seems emptied of even the dead
Silent and lifeless, I hope some have fled!
‘Nihlus!’ I call.
My voices echoes unanswered.
The Spectre comes not, and says not a word.
But near the tram, a lone figure lies,
A Turian, armoured in familiar guise.
Alenko goes to him, but we’ve come too late.
He was shot from behind, close quarters. Checkmate.
What out-spectred a Spectre? So close yet no doubt?
‘Look there! Something’s moving!’ Williams calls out.
A man, living, breathing, has appeared near the rail.
There’s something yet living in this dreadful vale!
‘The other one killed him.’
Says he who’s alive.
‘Did you see what happened! How did you survive?’
‘Well I was sleeping, or, catching a nap
Where the boss couldn’t see me, back there in the gap.
When the real fighting started, well, I just stayed back.’
‘So you lived because you’re a coward and slack!’
Williams’ voice pierces the heavy red air.
The man shrinks away from the blaze of her stare.
I look at her, bearing the marks of her fight
Faced down alone, with her sole, single might.
And I think of the fellows that she’s left behind,
And I do not wonder her tone is unkind.
But I am just glad to see some have survived
If he has lived here, there’s many alive.
‘And what of the Turian, who has killed him?’
‘The other one; kinda tall, pale grey, and grim.
I think he knew him, he called him by name.
This one was all tense and ready to aim
Then he saw the other, and seemed to relax
Then they were talking and he turned his back.
He shot him, I don’t know, don’t ask me why.
Then he took off on the tram really spry.’
‘What name did he call him? What did you hear?’
‘Nihlus.’
‘The other.’
‘Oh, let me think here.
Saren, I think, no wait, I’m quite sure.
Saren Arc-something-or-other he were.
A really big fella, the colour of tin
With mean beady eyes, look out for him!’

~ Stanza 10 · Saren’s Command ~

We leave him and Nihlus and take the tram,
Out into the valley and over a dam,
Across broad green meadows and past walls of cream.
They said it was beautiful, it’s like a dream.
A dream and yet a nightmare beneath.
I see none of its folk but the Gunnery-Chief.
She stands beside me, stoic and grim,
No tears in her dark eyes or on her tanned skin.
Others live, surely, in hiding or flight
But I see no signs of still active fight.
And still in the clouds, broods the evil black thing
And through the air still, I hear that dull ring.
Far on the platform, I see white figures moving,
Not men, they’re Geth. I can’t tell what they’re doing.
Yet among them I see a lone living creature
It’s too far to make out specifics of feature
But he is Turian. That much is clear.
He strides right among them without hint of fear
And directs like a master or an overseer.
He’s gone before the tram comes near.
We give the Geth battle, those few who remain.
As we retake the platform I see in a drain,
A cylinder, blatantly out of place.
It’s little lights blink at a very fast pace.
I duck out of the firing, next to the drain.
An explosive, fit to light up the plain.
‘Lieutenant!’ I call.
Alenko ducks down.
I see that he sees what it is I have found.
‘Can you disarm it?’
He nods and takes over.
Williams and I stand by and give cover.
Whole precious moments slip by as he works.
Most Geth have pulled off, but still a few lurk
Near corners and ledges sniping at will.
I’m surprised that they’re hanging around here still.
‘Got it, Commander! This one’s disarmed.’
‘This one?!’
‘There’s four, synced together and armed.
We’ve got minutes to find them, we have to move now!
I’ve got leads on them, we’ll get them somehow.’

~ Stanza 11 · Battle of the Space Port ~

We run through deserted, sun-lit ramparts,
After the signal his omni-tool charts.
The beacon’s forgotten, or nearly so,
I guess it is now in the hands of the foe.
Yet the colony still can be partly saved,
There’s people alive here, where roads are paved.
And many more farther, out in the rural lands.
But these huge bombs will turn meadows to sands.
The plains, and the ridges, the sweet mossy dells
Infernos will crumble them into a hell.
We disarm two more, but we’re searching too long!
Then, on a causeway we’re running along
We see farther down, where the last bomb lies,
It’s little lights blinking like small evil eyes.
The Geth rise up from behind the bulwarks,
The heat of their bolts turns concrete to sparks.
We gain ground, too slowly, dodging cover to cover.
Enough! Lose this chance and we get no other!
I strengthen my barrier and charge down the road,
The two marines at my side.
We clash with the Geth. They crash and explode.
Our shields shudder but they stem the tide.
We drive our foes back and duck into cover
Right near the explosive, our strength near over.
Beside me stands Williams. We hold the Geth back,
Alenko’s crouched down and turned his green back
On the battle beside him, the fury and fire
Working as though he did not hear their ire.
His brown fingers flash and his omni-tool whirs.
Over his set brow his dark hair is stirred
By the wind that throws up the dust from the fray.
Hurls it in our eyes and throws it away.
Williams’ assault-rifle and my shotgun
Cry out like mad hounds in the fast sinking sun.
‘It’s done!’He leaps up, and hurls blue at the foe.
The moments tick by, but the bombs do not blow.
It’s the Geth that collapse, they fall, move no more.
Just then I notice, I don’t hear the roar.
The sky has grown clear. The blackness is gone.
It’s only the soft red of sunset – halcyon.

~ Stanza 12 · The Beacon ~

We head back through the space-port, searching the platforms
Though the beacon must surely have long since been borne
Away in the hands of the marauding Geth
Must surely now be in that black hulk of death.
And yet, on a deck, a tall pillar stands,
As if, untouched by enemy hands,
It sits unhurt, and waiting for us,
Humming and greenly luminous.
It is the beacon. Williams confirms it
But she is puzzled, it didn’t emit
A light or a sound when it was first found.
Before it sat quiet and still on the ground.
Like polar aurora, pulsing, singing
The light dances up its cone, emblazoning
Dark steel with flickering green, mesmerizing.
The sound seems to grow, a low murmuring.
I shrug, turn away, and open my com,
To call to the Captain that all is now calm.
Alenko still watches as I pass by,
Strong curiosity in his brown eyes.
The thing is lovely, strange, and old.
For this, he has fought and Jenkins lies cold.
I contact the ship, get Joker on-line,
Tell him the beacon still seems to be fine.
Movement catches my notice-
‘Alenko!’
He struggles as though in a strong under-tow.
It’s dragging him towards the glimmering beacon
Seizing him fiercely, he seems to be weakened.
Over the deck, towards the beacon, toward him
I dash and I shout, the light has grown dim.
His planted heels slip and his hands find no grip.
The humming grows louder. His booted feet trip.
I leap and I grasp him. The beacon grasps me.
A moment I wrangle, then hurl him free.
He falls safe to the deck, crumples down to the ground.
But the beacon still drags me, it twists me around.
Glimmering, shimmering – it won’t let go.
My feet leave the ground, I seem to be falling
Darkening, thundering – cruel shrieks of woe
Though them I hear my two comrades calling:
‘Shepard!’
He cries. She shouts:
‘Lieutenant! No!’
The sounds of their struggle fade from my ears.
Sights fill my eyes like the shooting of spears.
Fire and darkness. Silence and screams.
Foreign eyes sparkless. Death swarms in reams.
Shattering, blackening, gathering dark.
Light flickers feeble, crush of the spark.
Faltering, smouldering, perishing, gone.
Raging untrammelled. Dark steals the dawn.
Dimly I know that I’m still in the air
Above a space dock on an evening fair.
But this blast seems quite real, not like before.
I’m thrown to the deck and I know no more.

Canto 2 ~ The Citadel ⇒

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Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent