The Song of the Shepard: Canto 5 ~ Virmire


~ 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.


~ 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.’

~ 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.’


~ 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:
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.)
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.
‘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.
‘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:
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.’


~ 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!
I want a biotic aerial defence!
Maintain that shielding and keep up ground fire!
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?’
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!’
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.
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-’
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.



The Song of the Shepard: Canto 4 ~ The Towers of Feros


© Bioware  –  Introduction
~ Stanza 1 · In the Shades of the Past ~

As the days pass the stars slide past.
Scarcely one grasps how extremely fast
The Normandy’s truly moving through space.
We seem to glide at a leisurely pace.
The space of the cluster is clear and fair
Untroubled by star winds or bursts from flares.
No traps lay in wait in the half-enclosed sea.
The sailing is swift and fine and free.
On some other voyage, I’d wind out the days
And savour each one in the apricot rays.
Would I could now! But Liara’s fell theory
Has donned the black shades that the beacon showed me.
I still can’t explain what I knew in that strife
Nor write it, nor trace it, nor carve with a knife.
Murder and fire and withering dark
But no tale, no fact, no info to mark.
I feel but can’t think! Though I wear my brain sore.
Even the colours I have no words for.
Yet as time goes by I grow more and more sure
That that’s what I saw – the end of a world.
And if this terrible theory is true,
If this is what Saren is meaning to do,
How small are the actions that I can now take!
The fastest ship might no difference make!
To bring back the beings who dashed out the light
Plunged worlds into chaos, set all tongues to flight.
What madness drives him? What stake is his?!
What could posses any nau to do this?

~ Stanza 2 · The Scholar’s Bower ~

There’s a room where the shipboard computers whirr
Far from the whistles and feet and the stir.
There sits Liara, studying alone,
A more passionate scholar than I’ve ever known.
Three times and nineteen my years she has seen
And known far more places than I’ve ever been.
Yet how very youthful she seems to be.
And like junior to senior she speaks to me.
How quiet her voice is, how gentle her tongue
But never such knowledge was won by the young.
Often I remind myself how little I know,
How closely connected she is with our foe,
Remind myself not to bestow trust unearned
Not to assume what I’ve not truly learned.
So though I can’t truly think ill of her
Or fail to delight in her lore-laden words,
I keep a reserve from her, back in my mind
And withhold a judgement, though my words are kind.
Too much now lies in my hands to break!
How cautious I must be if I am to make.
When my mother was given her own command
She thought it power enough for one woman’s hands.
But I am a spectre too.
A responsibility given to few.
And now, what is this task I have been given?
What’s in my hands with this “simple” mission?

~ Stanza 3 · The Boy from Brain Camp ~

It’s not only me that such peril sees
Alenko once ventures to speak of it to me.
He’s one of the co-pilots, when there is need
But has other duties which oft supersede.
There’s a power-flow station off the central hall
To him the monitor shift often falls.
And sometimes I stop for a while there
And thoughts of the mission we often will share.
One of these times my spectrehood rises
And the weight which all that power comprises.
Kaidan Alenko views it quite seriously
Not that he fears that I’ll act unjustly
Rather it’s care he speaks of to me.
And tries to express, respectfully,
Just how much harm thoughtless power can be
Harm that the wielder may never see.
A tale is brought forth as an illustration,
(Half drawn out by some friendly persuasion)
Of an early and long closed biotic school
And a Turian instructor, resentful and cruel.
As the story unwinds it surprises me
With a side of Alenko which I haven’t seen.
This instructor had neither justice, nor prudence.
He right off presented himself to his students
As the “Turian soldier who shot down your father”.
‘Wasn’t pleased when I said my dad works in Vancouver.’
‘Why, Alenko!You back-talked someone?’
He did. Time went on and nothing was done
About Vyrnnus’ arbitrary, harsh decrees
His demanding hatred they could not appease.
Before it ended one teen died
Apparently driven to suicide.
And one day the Turian finally snapped
Lost his temper and went on attack.
‘The girl only wanted a glass of water!’
But Vyrnnus refused, flipped out, and hurt her.
‘So what happened then? They finally sack him?’
No, I am told, that wasn’t an option.
Young Kaidan had gotten between the two
Afraid for the girl, what the teacher might do.
And when Vyrnnus’ knife drove into his side
The boy’s biotic blast flung the Turian wide.
‘Sat down by a kid! Well that must’ve burned.’
‘Well … no, Commander. I don’t think he learned.’
Kaidan was never charged with offence.
It was plainly and clearly in self defence.
He’d meant to help Rhana, not cause Vyrnnus’ end.
But I am quite proud of my biotic officer
To challenge and best a grown Turian soldier,
As only a kid, in defence of a friend.
‘That Rhana’ I ask ‘are you two still friends?’
‘Ah, not really, Commander. That’s where that ends.
After Vyrnnus died she was … frightened of me.’
And twenty years later, the man still is sorry.
‘I guess, Ma’am, all I’ve been trying to say
Is when you slip up, you don’t know who pays.
Hiring him was a convenient decision.
Changing their tune would have brought on derision.
If they’d taken more thought, or then paid attention
None of that would ever have happened.
But some people died and others were marred.
Money was wasted, and young minds were scarred.
Without meaning harm they got themselves caught
In a vicious cycle fostering rot.
There’s bound to be some tough calls laid on you.
And Ma’am, I don’t want that to happen to you.’

~ Stanza 4
· Training ~

The Normandy isn’t a troop transport
She’s a recon vessel with strike-team support.
Most of the crew are specifically sailors;
controlmen, navigators, and engineers.
But five warriors wait in the lists
And our Geth and Prothean specialists.
Down in the cargo bay we seven train
Best as we can in constricted terrain.
A second-rate strike-force is no good at all.
But a commando team that’s deadly and careful
Well-trained, well-equipped, and knowledgeable
Can cause much larger forces’ fall.
On Therum my team proved that they could work,
Regardless of races or personal quirks.
Wrex, that big merc, took orders quite well
Williams was decent enough to tell.
Her views have not yielded, her fears are still there
But she can still lead, fight beside, and play fair.
She’s a strange blending of the hard and the kind,
Of deeds of the body, and flights of the mind.
Once, in the hold, we happened to talk
Of the vast fields of wonder outside the airlock,
The light, and the movement, beyond the skies
The flowing, the glowing nebulae
The edge of the galaxy spinning away
Far past the reaches of our stellar days
The galactic diamonds lacing the void
Which man cannot reach, but sing to him joy
The hand of God in the constellations
The laughing, blinding light of creation.
I had not realized that she even saw this
So many are blind and pass over bliss
Unthinking, unseeing, and dead to the world.
Not her. I realize that Ashley has heard
The Song of the Morning which wise men know
Sung in deep space where the deadly rays flow.

~ Stanza 5 · Across the Attican Gulf~

At long last we reach the Artemis Relay
And leap a great swath of the broad Milky-Way
To land in the star bank they call Hades Gamma
And jump straight from thence, to Attican Beta.
Attican Beta lies on a gulf
Of black empty space between the tumult
Of the Milky-Way’s arms, those bright banks of fire.
It lies like a dark, clear, still lake, through which mere
Thousands of lights shine up from below
From far, like a dream, or from long long ago.
And then turn around, for in space there’s no down
The same vision appears, the far faces abound.
Along the edge of this starry bay
We skim for hours deep into the day
Of pure white Theseus, a fair, small star
To the satellite where our colonists are
The gray green planet they call Feros.
In voids of silence, one liveable coast.

~ Stanza 6 · Out of the Mist ~

The atmosphere is white with haze
And swathed in clouds turned bright with rays.
Through the wreathes of mist and air
I glimpse two towers, tall and spare.
Far, far above the ground they stand
Bound only by a slender band
Of ancient rock, from one to next.
How smooth they stand, how unlike wrecks.
It’s said they were carved not built
That their roots stretch down below the silt
Of the moving, shifting marshlands below
And down to the bedrock of Feros.
The eastern tower holds “Exo-Geni”
A mining, corporate investment entity.
But the one on the west, they call Zhu’s Hope
Bound to the east by the narrow stone rope.
There a tiny band of settlers live,
Folk who have come to stay and give.
We glide the vessel through a great stone window
Into a vast open room in the stone.
They answered our hails, told us where to go
But the chamber is empty. We dock here alone.


~ Stanza 7 · In the Ancient Tower ~

The air in the bay is fresh and chill
The wind round the tower whistles shrill
The ground is lost in the mists below
Around us wreathing vapour blows.
We turn, Liara, Garrus, and I
Into the tower, away from the sky.
Liara’s laid aside her tunic
We girded her from our armoury,
An armoured suit of soft silver
And a gun as light as a metal reed.
The path from the bay where the Normandy’s docked
Is simple to follow, though not truly marked.
It’s newly been handled by hands that care.
It’s clean and does not need repair.
The halls cut straight from the seamless stone
Cry out of their dwellers, yet we walk alone.
Liara must see everywhere
The vaulted chambers broad and fair,
The narrow nooks and closets dark
Far beyond the reach of spark
The winding stairs and far pierced shafts
Through which the soft white sunbeams laugh.
It is believed this was once
A great Prothean library
Many many ages since
A place of knowledge and of study.
No known records here remain
Just empty stone above the plain.
Oh, how she wishes she could see
This tower as it used to be!
Now the calls of birds are all the sound,
And here and there a pale vine twines around
Through nooks and crannies in the shade.
I wonder how many cracks it’s made.

~ Stanza 8 · The Bivouac ~

Ahead, there reaches a long corridor,
Broken and scorched are the walls and the floor.
At the end is a barricade where armed men wait
Slumped beside rifles, guarding the gate.
‘What news, Zhu’s Hope? Against whom do you fight?’
I now see their faces, clear in the light.
They’re pale and exhausted, blackened with grime.
They’ve been here at guard for a very long time.
No one answers my question, but one nods us through.
‘Fai Dan’s over there. It’s him you should talk to.’
Beyond the gate’s a broad shaft-lit room
Clustered with shelters like many cocoons.
We pick our way through it; a rushed, dreary camp
Cluttered, and smoke stained; a chill feel of damp.
Few pause to look at the three armoured strangers.
They’re all in a hurry, as if they’re in danger.
One woman looks up from equipment she’s fixing
With a dull, tired look. Her left eye is twitching.
‘What’s going on? Are the Geth still here?’
‘You’d better go talk to Fai Dan over there.’
Fai Dan is an older man, stooped and worn
Like all about him, he’s tense and forlorn.
His great dark eyes are hollow and weary.
But he greets us with a muster of courtesy.
The Geth are not gone. They haunt the place still.
Zhu’s Hope is at war. Many folk have been killed.
They wait even now for another attack.
‘Another? Right now?’
‘No. They always come back.’
The colonists have bottled themselves in this chamber,
Abandoned the bridge, to their halls became strangers.
These long narrow corridors funnel the Geth
Right into their waiting rifles and death.
But for how long can they fight like this still?
I look among them. They’re going to fall ill.
‘You’re a small colony to face an attack.
You should have called for aid or an evac.’
‘Leave Zhu’s Hope? No! We’d never do that.’
‘There’s Geth in the tower!’
Someone cries out.
Everyone jumps at the terrible shout.
I call to the ship. The whole camp is moving,
Dozers awaking and many feet running.
‘Alenko? You’re up. I need Bravo Squad.
Take Williams and Wrex. Our info was flawed.
The Geth are still here. Zhu’s Hope’s under attack.
Uploading schematics. Stay in contact.’
‘They won’t make it in time!’
I hear Fai Dan say.
‘The Geth are much closer. No, tell them to stay.’
‘Hold the siege still, Dan. We’ll play the sortie.
When the Geth are all gone, we’ll be back for your story.’

~ Stanza 9 · The Sleepless ~

From the narrow tunnel, I hear the steel feet pound.
Through the halls and chambers, stone echoes with the sound.
They come; a voiceless, breathless, band.
Marching; death in cruel clawed hands.
We cannot directly engage the main force
We attack and pull back on a mad, twisting course
Drawing along many Geth in pursuit
To fall when we back-track and double our route.
Or with audio contact between our two bands
Lead them straight into the second squad’s hands.
The fewer Geth they can hurl through that trap
The less chance of one getting through.
They’ve worn Zhu’s Hope down, expecting they’ll snap,
Fall ill, pass out, and grow few.
An endless barrage of waves Geth can keep.
It’s a waiting game and they do not sleep.

As we turn on a troop of our lured off pursuers
Turn them in a moment from hunters to prey
And hurl them down to fall to the sewers
Out of the white of the the soft Feros day
I see where the slaughtered lie, not yet retrieved.
And I hear in my ears a voice, soft and grieved.
‘So much suffering. So much loss.
And still they stand and they fight.
They’ve done great work here but what’s the cost
Of these wonders that they’ve brought to light?’
I turn to look at the young girl beside me.
Light still flickers round her hands, faintly.
She has thrown down so much ravaging steel!
I’m amazed at the furies those small hands have dealed.
But her fair face is filled with pity and woe,
Grief for the colonists and high brought so low.
‘This place was once a house of learning!
It should not have become a den of slaughter.’
I see her valiance, her care, and her yearning…
Of this moment, I love Benezia’s daughter.

~ Stanza 10 · The Mad-man ~

When the gate is clear I leave the camp
With both of my squads, and we search through the damp
And the mist and the empty chambers of stone
Looking for Geth who are lurking alone.
In a dim-lit corridor filled with pipes
Where the distant sunlight falls in stripes
I hear the sound of a human man’s groan
And look, where he turns, with a terrible moan.
A fire of madness glares in his eye
As if in torment. His face twists awry
Not a coherent word his stiff jaws unclamp
But he rails contempt on his fellows in camp
When I ask him why, he answers not
But screams defiance towards I know not what,
With a mirthless, hysterical laugh of disdain
Fading away to a cry of pain.
A man so mad, so far fallen under
Should never have been allowed to wander!
But he will not return back with us
And I am loath to subject him to force.
So we leave him alone, in the cold, heartless stone
Behind I hear still his pitiful groans.

~ Stanza 11 · Death from the East ~

Zhu’s Hope has resumed its former rushed drear.
Sounds of welding, and pounding, and sighs fill my ears.
When I speak of the madman, Fai Dan shakes his head
In his face the last gleam of vigour has fled
In its place is exhaustion and saddened shame.
Zhu’s Hope’s weary Chief bows his tall lanky frame.

The Geth came at first as shadows at night.
They haunted the towers but challenged no fight.
Then they returned and the east tower fell,
Geth troops now march from the slain corporate shell.
And so to the East my team turns its gaze
Whence death has marched for many long days.
‘Tali, bring the Mako
Round to the tower’s gate.
Over the bridge our team must go.
The six of us await.’

~ Stanza 12 · Over the Bridge ~

Overhead is the sky, on each side is the sky
An ocean of mist lies on every side.
Far in the distance pinnacles float
Over the fogbank, like sharp broken notes
But the bridge, which seemed like an over-spun thread
Stretched dizzily over a great gulf of dread
Proves up close to be solid and broad
Good to support a thousand such squads;
A causeway of giants tremendous and bold
Far in the clouds, enormous and old.
From the ramparts we’re hailed and called off to the side
To a deep hidden chamber where many men hide;
Scientists and bureaucrats, janitors and guards
Who escaped from the east when the Geth first hit hard.
The Geth have not found them, or else did not care.
They’ve seen the troops march but Geth never stopped there.
At the news that Zhu’s Hope, their neighbour, yet stands
Many rejoice, and encourage our plans.
But their current leader, Director Jeong
Acts like we’re scavenging vagabonds.
Company property’s company property
Don’t mess with anything that’s ExoGeni’s.
But one older woman, Julia Baynam
Who’s just gotten back from a long expedition
To find all in chaos and fire and war
Briefs us on the tower she left weeks before
And begs us to keep an eye out for survivors.
Many got out, but she’s not found her daughter.
A furlong away from the lowering gates
We leave the Mako, bid Tali wait
Retreat if she needs, to keep herself safe
And return, when we call, to these eastern gates.
I will lead Squad Alpha up.
Alenko will lead Bravo down
We’ll stay in contact, search through the huge place;
Rejoin when the Geth base is found.
The tower looms up tall before
Open and dark are the great brazen doors.

~ Stanza 13 · The Eastern Tower ~

In the tower beyond the guardhouse
The halls are burned and black
All that ExoGeni built
Has been torn, and crushed, and hacked.
Shadows slink just out of our sight
Beasts too few to attempt a fight,
Drawn up by the battle and stench of death
More hungered than afraid of Geth.
I know the Geth are hunting us,
As we are hunting them.
But the depth of stone conceals us both
And we quietly prowl like circling ghosts
Listening, and listening again.
High in the tower, in an empty room
A monument’s been built.
The black shape stands in a shadowy gloom
The stench is like an open tomb
For with blood the shape is gilt.
‘It’s like some kind of ghastly shrine.’
Liara says, ‘Have the Geth showed signs
Of bloody pagan rites before?’
‘No, not according to Quarian lore.’
Tali answers over the comm.
‘But the Geth I found Saren’s intel on
Held the Reapers in an odd sort of light,
The pinnacle of all synthetic life.
Almost as if they were deities.’
I hear Williams snorting distantly:
‘If they’re looking for God, they’re going the wrong way!
But, shall we send them to meet Him today?’
A survivor we find in the tower’s depths
Or rather she finds us
Her bullet glances off my chest
And shocked apology she protests
Ere we see her in the dusk.
We promise to return for her
And she lends her ID to help us through the tower.
In our search I step to the ledge of a window
Looking out to the bright fields of fog below
Swift sinks the sun on fast spinning Feros
Scarce is the swiftly repairing Geth host.
I cast my eye up the smooth, grey wall
It stretches away, dull-toned and tall.
But a gleam in the sunset, like a beetle’s back
Reflects near the top of the Prothean stack.
The Geth weren’t dropped off. A small ship still clings
To the side of the tower with enfolded wings,
And there are their foundries, their coms and spare parts,
There is the place from whence the raids march!
I call o’er the comm to Lieutenant Alenko
To call off the search and bring along Bravo.
I get Tali on-line. We conspire with her.
In the last of the light we climb through the tower.

 Stanza 14 · The Worm in the West ~

On our way we come on a Krogan snorting
Cursing and pounding, almost cavorting
‘Subject species fourteen! The files! Now!’
That data’s secured. No ID? Not allowed.
Is there anything else that you need tried?’
‘Give me the files you piece of rust!
Or I will blast your virtual hide
Into actual, factual, stinking dust!’
If that will be all, Sir, please stand aside.
A queue has formed behind you. This chamber is not wide.’
The flat face is split by an evil grin,
‘Good! Cause I really need to kill something!’
When the battle is over, there isn’t much left
Of what was once an office, it’s crushed, stamped, and reft
By the temper and force of the ogre’s death charge
A hologram stands across the room, man-large.
I produce the ID.
‘Welcome, Miss Baynam.’
And I ask for the data sought by the Krogan.
Species Fourteen is a native plant
Which grows in the western tower
Those who stay long in the range of its spores
Fall slowly under its power.
Their minds slowly bend and their wills fade away
They become living tools to be used.
And its grip grows more sure with each passing day
As the human case study has proved.
The human case study?
The folk of Zhu’s Hope
I realize they’re right o’er its main neural spoke.
‘Well, here’s Saren’s interest in Feros.
Of course he wants that play.
But oh, when I find that Director Jeong,
There will be hell to pay!’

~ Stanza 15 · The Geth Drop-ship ~

The Geth ship doesn’t cling to the smooth carven stone
It’s sent out it’s claws into Feros’ stone bones.
In through great windows, the landing gear reaches
It twines through the halls and the bulwarks it breaches.
But the ship’s powered down, its engines are cold.
And these few floors are weakened by the claws’ piercing hold.
Liara’s our closest to an architect
She chooses the points which most strongly connect.
Whose loss would most weaken the floor in its grip
We set up charges. And then let it rip.
The cracking of rock, and screeching steel’s groan
The crash and the boom of the ripping of stone
And light of its crash bursts up through the fog.
It stains the pale mist with the brown glow of smog.

~ Stanza 16 · The Work of ExoGenii ~

When we return to Miss Baynam, she hangs her head.
She does not deny what the hologram said.
Such a creature does live, in the western tower
ExoGeni just studied as it overpowered
The minds and the wills of the colonists
Watched as Zhu’s Hope ceased to exist.
They who were free men, fight now as slaves
Spending their blood o’er their foul master’s cave.
I think of the madman hiding alone
Hear the pitiful echoes of his wretched groans.
He alone is still sane. It’s the rest who are mad.
Their false appearance just mocks what they had!
He fights still the battle his fellow have lost
At a hideous, hideous personal cost.
‘I wanted to help!’
Miss Baynam cries.
‘I did. Please believe me. It isn’t a lie.
I didn’t find out till quite recently.
They said if I ratted the next would be me.
That’s why I didn’t go out with the rest,
I was trying to get to the coms, past the Geth.
But the coms were destroyed, and I didn’t know
If I was the one left here on Feros’

Back down through the lonely tower we go
In the full night’s dark and damp
And out to the bridge, with dim cloudscape below
And on to the company’s camp.
Where I charge to his face the wretched man
Whose pitiless heart made the cruel order stand.
Not at knew of the evil. The janitors gasp.
And my scientist helper looks up as she clasps
The young Baynam to her, and hurls upon Jeong
The shame of his actions, the depths of his wrong.
And he waffles and sneers and talks of stockholders
Heaps up expenses and shrugs his bow shoulders,
And complains that in all this worthless waste
Species Fourteen, the Thorian, was the only case
Wherein ExoGeni might look for a profit!
The huge applications! Just think of it!
Then sinking from depth to depth, he turns
And suggests it’s too late. It all has to burn.
The world must never be allowed to see
The thing that was done by ExoGeni.
A whisper goes up. My team shifts behind me.
I see that we’re flanked by private security.
‘So, Commander … what do you say?
The Thorian has them. Zhu’s Hope’s lost anyway.’
‘Jeong, I am an Alliance marine.
All that I am and all I’ve sworn binds me
To protect and to serve these “subjects” you’ve studied!
And yet, for the convenience of a mere company,
You would propose mass murder to me?!’
‘Well. If that’s the way it has to be.
That’s fine! You know, that’s fine with me.’
There’s a slight motion of Jeong’s right hand
A nod to where where security stands.
And I put a bullet through his wretched brain
Before his pistol’s pulled out on its chain.
‘Everyone! Stand down!’
And they obey.
My team drew and shielded much faster than they.
‘Commander?’ I hear. ‘Come in. This is Joker!
The colonists want on board!’
‘Don’t let them it! Don’t open that door!’
‘Yeah, no in or out. We remembered your order.
They knocked on the door and asked nicely at first
But we told ‘em your order and it changed for the worst.
They’re messing with the hull, they’re hitting my ship!
Presley wants orders, what’s up with this?’
‘Is the ship in real danger? I mean seriously?’
‘No I don’t think so, they can’t hurt her really.’
‘Then sit tight. Let them pound. Keep them there if you can.
Just don’t go outside. And don’t let in one man.’

~ Stanza 17 · The Enemy Awaits ~

I hold a council, a council of war
To hear my team’s ideas and the scientists’ lore.
The Thorian must be destroyed, and the sooner done, the better.
But nowhere is it vulnerable besides that neural centre.
Little good would be the mere tearing of shoots.
Poison will not reach the nerve through the roots.
I call for a toxin strong enough to be used
But I know to employ it, we’ll have get through
To that centre the colonists defend with their lives,
The old men, the children, the husbands, and wives.
And already the Thorian knows that we know
Knows that we’re coming. Knows we’re its foe.
‘Commander,’ says Julia, ‘I have something here.
Down my science work out in the meres
I carried non-lethal gas grenades
Which let me examine and yet cause no pain.
I have five grenades left. They are very strong.
Take them. And these masks. They’ll do men no wrong.’
Only five, against so many.
I turn to Alenko and speak quietly.
‘Take the Mako, Lieutenant. Patrol the causeway.
The ship may have crashed, but I’m sure Geth escaped.’
‘But Zhu’s Hope, Ma’am?’
‘My squad will take it.
We can’t shoot our way through this, we can’t use all six.
You’ll be three more targets and not three more guns,
And, I need you to keep Wrex away from this one.
I don’t know we could stop him from firing back
If the colonists do indeed go on attack.
And I want that thing knowing there’s a squad in reserve.
It may throw men less blindly, try to conserve.
And most important, what Geth still exist
May come in our wake. So, hold the bridge.’
‘Take care, Commander.’
‘Oh, I’m gonna try.’
I take Lisbeth’s vial, and bid him good bye.

~ Stanza 18 · Into the Dark ~

Down the middle of the broad stone road
Through the damp, black fog
Muffled we walk, avoiding the nodes
That creep the dark walls along.
We scarcely can see the tower ahead
A blackness blacker than fog overspread.
The only sound is the wind’s low moan
And the Mako’s distant rumbling tones.
The gate is a gaping hole into dark.
Not a breath of a voice, nor a flicker of spark.
But something is rustling beyond the old door.
A scuffling approaches o’er the stone floor.‘Who goes there?’
I ask.
Silence answers.
I step forward again, repeating the words
Faster too, comes the shuffling thing
I smell a strange odour, the air starts to sting
A long fingered hand reaches out through the mist
I fling it back with a snap of my wrist
In the flash I glimpse a terrible face
Fixed in a twisted inhuman leer
Beside me I hear Liara gasp
Her voice is filled with fear.
‘That can’t be one of the colonists!
It simply cannot be.
No torment, slavery, space of years
Could do that to humanity.’I flash on my gun-light, the distorted form lies
Pallid and limp, grotesque to my eyes
It’s crushed and torn though my blow was light
I look more closely.
‘No, its alright.
This isn’t an animal at all, it’s vegetable.’
‘Hm.’ says Garrus. ‘Sounds rather improbable.’‘
No, come and look…’
‘Wait, Shepard! Don’t touch it!’
Liara exclaims.
‘It’s extremely toxic.
I’m reading it highly alkaloid.’‘
Right. Hideous, stinking, toxic decoys.
Use deadly force here, if more exist
But never, never on the colonists
No matter the hold this thing has on their minds,
No matter how mad, how deadly, how blind.
Remember, when we enter this door.
That it is Zhu’s Hope that we’re fighting for.’

~ Stanza 19 · The Conquered Colony ~

And so, in arms, we re-enter Zhu’s Hope.
I keep my eyes fixed on my dim radarscope.
In all the hall there is no glow or spark
But I hit the ground ere guns bark in the dark.
‘Liara, be ready!’
My arm pulses with blue
Surrounding my hand, the grenade I just threw.
Liara’s blow follows and engulfs it too
All over the landing, green mist is spewed.
The men drop down, their guns speak no more
I leap from my hiding place down on the floor
And bound up the steps. They’re so strangely cold.
And their breath is so small, heartbeat barely told.
We go out of our way, eschew the main paths
Take round about roads towards the source of the wrath,
Running whenever we see someone
And watching for sprigs of the Thorian.
It takes a long time to reach the door
Of that long and deadly corridor.
Beside the doorframe I hold a grenade
The second precious, life-saving aid.
My biotics surround and encase the small thing.
I take a deep breath, and then pull the pin.
‘Liara, now!’
Propelled and protected by two fields of blue
It sails down the corridor, steady and true.
Behind it we three sprint behind in a blaze
Of barriers melded together and raised.
The shattering of bullets starts and then breaks
As the colonists tumble behind their big crates.
Long ere it’s dispersed, we’re there in the room
Using those crates ourselves in the fume.

Here they come, these men and women
All with armour, some without guns.
Blindly, madly, they rush at us three.
Death in their hands. They don’t seem to see.
And all through them shuffle, with poisonous tread
Those terrible creepers, like long decayed dead.
Not to kill and not to die–
(The air is filled with horrible cries)
-Hit hard. But don’t crush them. Hide as I can
Throw only grenades to large colonist bands.
Garrus is in there. Charged with his fists
Engaging with fisticuffs spent colonists
Exposing his shields to their open guns’ blaze
But not touching his gun, no not him, no way!
‘Liara! Cover him!’
I shout, throw again.
Bullets crash on my barrier, I hear cries of pain.
These were strong grenades, so many lie still
And yet still more rush blindly to kill.
But one more left.
I run farther in, ignoring the blast.
Best as I’ll get.
I pull the pin, and set off the last.

~ Stanza 20 · Fai Dan ~

The mist clears away, all the camp now lies silent
The people hurln down, dust covered and bent.
No battlefield stranger have I ever seen.
For no other combatants have ever I been
So grieved by the silence. They lie as if dead.
I look down at my feet, at a young flaxen head
In whose soft features dull pain still is writ.
I turn swiftly away, our work must be quick.
Ere long the others who haunt the dark halls
And pester the Normandy will have been recalled.
By then we must be through and gone.
The way must be found, and then shut full strong.

A slab draws aside, a deep stair is revealed.
A gasp and groan falls sharp on my ears.
There stands Fai Dan. A gun in his hand
gaze appalled to look on the man.
His kindly face is a twisted mask
He’s bent like a lightening struck tree in a blast
His eyes are half-closed in a squint of pain
Yet he seems to see all and to see it again.
I have no grenades. A harsh blow might now kill him.
I seize my gun in the hope I can threaten.
I don’t know if he’ll hear. How he trembles and shakes!
But he looks up, looks straight into my face.
‘I was supposed to lead Zhu’s Hope.’
(Oh, his voice, that a man should croak!)
‘I was supposed to take care of these people.’
(How frail he seems, just how breakable.)
‘And look where I’ve led them. Look what I’ve done.’
He violently shakes, glances down at his gun.
‘It wants me to kill you…’
(Don’t make me, Dan, don’t.)
His hand starts to move, I prepare…
‘But I won’t.’
His gun breaks the silence. And silent he lies.
One hard-won free act. In defiance, he dies.

~ Stanza 21 · The Thorian’s Lair ~

I turn from the body and swiftly descend
Down stairwells, through corridors, past tortuous bends.
We close doors behind us, and bar from inside
To stop our pursuers, and buy us some time.
Here no long shafts pierce into the dark.
We’re far past the windows, no day could be marked.
And yet, through the place, a dim glimmering fades,
A vague phosphorescence, a smell of decay
Thick, gnarled plant limbs eat through the walls
The racked, tortured stone has crumbled, and falls
The dark limbs themselves are half eaten with rot
And wither away in their serpentine knots.
Nothing accosts us, or blocks our road.
And yet a shuffling all round us is told.
The tunnel broadens. A wide space is here,
Though airless and still. Half seen appears
The drooping of plant masses burdened with aeons.
And hanging before us – the Thorian.

‘That’s not like any plant I’ve ever seen.’
Garrus’ voice breaks the silence that’s fallen between
We three tiny travellers in this reckonless hold.
The thing is far stranger than we had been told.
It seems to move as we watch, those long vines
Are writhing snakelike in mouldy, black twines
The unbridled mass hanging rudely before us
Seems to pulsate or beat, like an animate fungus.
Some cancerous growth it appears, a great tumour
Here in the long hidden heart of the tower
As we watch, hanging growths are thrust smoothly aside
And from the dark depths a tall lady glides.
Her eyes seem to start from out her proud head
Her beautiful face is as pale as the dead
And a greenish tone fills it with light of decay.
She opens those lips; so flawless, so grey.
‘You stand before the Thorian.
It demands that you be in awe.’
I lift my voice.
‘Release Zhu’s Hope!
I cannot leave them your thralls.’
The lady moves not but bends upon me
The strength of her eyes. She was Asari.
‘Since the days of the Protheans, who it consumed
Never the Thorian has been exhumed.
This is its ancient place of strength.
It is older and greater than you can suppose.
A thousand feelers apprise you as meat.
Good only to dig or to decompose.’
She suddenly moves, a biotic blue flash.
Back against sharp, jagged stone I crash.
Through the stagnant air I hear her cry,
Wavering, raging, long and high.
‘Your blood will fall and sate its drouth!
And you shall feed the Thorian’s growth.’
I’m up but she’s gone and all round us writhes
What we took to be merely the dark, fleshy vines.
Yet arms separate from them, long fingers search,
The hideous mockery of faces emerge,
And creepers swarm round us with death in their hands
In shuffling, lurching, poisonous bands.
We cast them back, and with toxin-laced omniblades
Slash at the twines in the choking shades.

How long we fight in the horrible lair
Far from the light and the sweet moving air
In the stench and the murk and the lashing of roots
The squashings of rottenness under our boots
While poisonous hands all grasp for our throats
And acrid slime covers our slick armour coats
I cannot now say. This night is an age.
And ever anon the lady appears
Fair and fell-handed, her tongue shooting spears
As much as her hands hurl the Thorian’s rage.
But, as we tear out an uncounted vine
I hear a sound like the snapping of twine
A creaking, a swinging, a cracking, a crash!
Liara, and Garrus, and I all look down
And we sigh and clap shoulders, and look all around.
Somewhere below, the Thorian’s smashed,
Just as the Geth ship the evening before.
The creepers are quiet. We sit on the floor.

~ Stanza 22 · The Handmaid of Benezia ~

‘Shepard to Bravo. The monster is dead.
Neural activity reads no more.
Alenko, return. But carefully tread.
Zhu’s Hope is now free, I don’t know if restored.’

As we make our way back through the wreckage and stone
I hear the sound of a soft, weary moan
And there ‘mongst the hangings of withering tissue
Stands the pale lady, with altered hue.
A warm purple glow now suffuses her cheek
She looks up. I see she herself can now speak.
‘I suppose I should thank you.’
She says quietly.
‘Strangers, I’m grateful for being set free.’
‘Who are you?’ I ask.
‘My name is Shiala.
I served the Lady Benezia.’
‘Then you came with Saren?’
Yes. I did.
… I’ve not thought in so long! Where have I been?
Yes, through me he spoke to the Thorian
And with it he left me when he went again.’
‘He gave you to it?’
‘ … He has a ship.
The longer you stay there the more your mind slips.
He calls it Sovereign. It is very old
Just where he found it I never was told.
But the things I thought there– it seems now that I raved.
I came to this place as a willing slave.
It seems only now I’ve come back to my own.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here in the stone.’
‘Then Saren already controls people’s minds?’
‘It seems Sovereign can. It at least controlled mine.’
‘Then what did Saren come here for?
Shiala, his crimes reached the level of war.
We’ve been sent to catch him. I’m Commander Shepard.
Please tell me why. Tell me what you have heard.’
For a moment she stands, seems to order her thoughts.
As if she’s untwisting long tangled knots.
‘The Thorian knew the Protheans
Knew their living minds
And so it remembered them
Through all the depth of time.
This knowledge it imparted to me
I, in turn, to him.
All for the price of another thrall
It gave a world to him.
Now, if you will, Commander
I’ll give this thing to you.
An ancient memory of what they were.
Do you wish me to?’

A waking dream descends upon me
Or rather I’m thrust to a whirlwind of thought
Plunged in an raging unfathomed sea
Foreign sensation the real world out blots,
And like crashing boulders or pelting of rain
Sights, sounds, tastes, feelings wash over my brain,
Other nau’s knowledge, other nau’s pain.
Then I stand again in the Thorian’s Lair,
Breathing the dim, stagnant, foul air.

Shialia looks across to me curiously
It seems saw something she thought not to see.
So that was her race’s famous telepathy,
And something more alien than the Asari.
Liara and Garrus behind me I hear
Their concern ringing in my buzzing ears.
‘We should go back, you look quite poorly.’
Liara’s insisting quite gently to me.
I nod. A strange weight in an uneasy sleep
Rests in my mind.
Shiala speaks:
‘Now, Commander,
You and I and Saren have
A thing no other living soul
In all the breadth of broad space has
In this moment as time rolls.
It is not a collection of speakable fact
Call it … a cipher, a key, not a tract.
Why Saren needed it, I do not know.
But, may it help you in seeking your foe.’
‘And you, Shiala, what will you do now?’
‘Zhu’s Hope. I wish to help them somehow.
I shame to have had a hand in their misery
Let me go to them now that I’m free.’
‘Then go, with my blessing, good lady.’ I say.
‘And come with us now, back up to the day.’

~ Stanza 23 · Zhu’s Hope ~

The morning light darts through the shafts
And hazes on the floor
When we have retraced our path
To the camp we left before.
White light, morning light, soft, suffusing, misty, bright
And the moving air, and the voices fair, and living men come to my sight.
They greet us with joy and with laughing cries
Though half realized grief still lies in their eyes
Clear eyes, without shades drawn inside
Open tongues, with nothing to hide.
And in amongst them, bright armour I see
The sight of my team-mates is sweet to me.
Kaidan in his dark stone green, Ashley in her pink and white
Tali masked in violet, Wrex looms red, a massive sight.
Victorious they come, the bridge held to their sway.
The Geth did come, at the breaking of day
And a terrible battle was fought at the gate.
No Geth will return to tell of their fate.
The bridge is clear and free again.
And Zhu’s Hope is released from the yoke of pain.
Their chieftain is dead, and many beside.
In my squad’s onslaught, one man did die.
Whose bullet he fell by, none of us know.
And far more were killed in the war with the foe.
Stores are destroyed, outer homes laid waste
They have only left what they pooled at this base.
And not a one but is worn to the bone
So long have they laboured down here in the stone.
But on every tongue are words of good cheer
They greet the new day as an old friend held dear.
And they welcome Shiala like one of their own
Almost as if she is already known.
I seek out and speak to the quiet-faced fellow
On whose young shoulders the chief-ship now falls.
Is there aid that he needs?
He tells me no
The monster’s no longer contained in their walls.
And they shall root out every creeper and sprig,
For its deep delving roots they’ll go out and dig.
Always look out for such creatures again
And give them wide berth … they wish to stay sane.
‘But, the low stores, I could have more shipped in.’
‘Commander, you come in the early spring.
If we can’t live here now’ he laughs ‘Zhu’s Hope won’t swing.’
Up from the bridge has come Julia Baynam
Hands anxious to the help, the warm hearted woman!
And with her her daughter, timorous girl
Tugging abashed at a short mousey curl.
I see nearby where the fallen now lie.
And grieve that so many of so few have died,
And grieve that I did not save Fai Dan.
And yet – there is this – he died a free man.
‘Oh, that the others alike had been free!
Not just tools to be thrown at the enemy!
Stoic indeed was the siege of Zhu’s Hope.
But, Garrus, remember just how Fai Dan spoke?
I mistook his eagerness for love of this place.
My curse on the liar who spoke with his face!’
‘Why then, Commander, you do him great wrong.’
It’s the woman who spoke when I first came along
The one with a twitch. The twitch now is gone.
And though she is weary her face is like dawn.
‘He did love this land. I knew him and know.
He strove hard for Zhu’s Hope. How he grieved for it’s woe!
The monster blighted our defence
With overshadowing dread
Chose where we might make our stand
Compelled us to leave things unsaid.
And yesternight drove us mad with pain
Til blind in our agony we would have slain
You, our rescuers, to our terrible shame
…. How sweet, how sweet to think freely again!
But Commander Shepard, think not that our deeds
Were only done through fear.
I can speak for myself at least.
I fought for a place held dear.
They said there was nothing but waste below
How I should like to take them and show
The sheets of clear water where swift fishes go
The splash of their play and the glint of their roe.
You have never seen, Commander,
The sun rise through the blowing mists
Nor the glowing of the nodding cups
Which the morning light has kissed.
The sun is shrouded, but all is bright
And you seem to move through living light.
You’ve never seen where the reed forests grow
Casting their seedheads like huge fluffy snow
Till the warm moving air and the boat and your hair
Are piled with laces as soft as mohair.
Amphibians dart like animate jewels
Amongst the glittering waterbug schools
The trumpet flowers beguile the hours
Humming a song I can hear from the tower.
You’ve never dived from the plastering heat,
Into the dark and the cool and the sweet
Down where the spicy brown tubers cling
To the water lapped helmets of Prothean Kings
Where the many legged lurker makes his dim muddy home
In half fallen chambers long buried in foam.
When banks of cloud drape and wrap over the ground
All turns to whispering, invisible sounds.
And you float in a world of muted grey pearl
While below the dark water ripples and swirls.
Oh, the whistling of the rushes
Before the black storm’s blast!
Oh, the days where the fog clears away
And the sun swings by so fast!
In the late afternoon how the lily stalks droop
Bending down to you their soft fragrant fruit
And you swim through long arches dripping with sweets
Long green vaulted, sun-dappled, watery streets.
In the still of an evening, hair damp with your sweat
The fruits of your labour on worn shoulders set
You never rode up through the high white halled tower
Past the still fogs and the little low showers
To the breadth and the freshness and cool of the sky
Welcomed the cliff birds’ deep-voiced, piecing cries
Watched moons’ light well through pale walls of stone
And walked hand in hand in the sky, two alone.
No, Ma’am.
Zhu’s Hope is our home. He spoke truth to you.
Here we will stay, though wounded and few
For though there are many glories in space
No where else in Creation would I find this place.’

~ Stanza 24 · The Cipher ~

We take off at once. The Normandy flies
Back up to space through the vapour wreathed skies.
And down in the comm-room we seven discuss
The mission, and intel it’s has given to us.
Saren came for the Thorian
But not for its mind control.
He controls minds already through Sovereign
That’s a trick he needed not told.
An ancient ship which controls men’s minds
A twisted ship which enslaves and blinds.
Who built it? Where? How long ago?
Nothing like it’s been built by our friends or our foes.
A Prothean ship? Or the Reapers’ even?
Which spurred on to madness the ambition of Saren?
And Feros. He came for the old memories.
He needed to see as a Prothean sees.
To interpret something of old
Something put down many ages ago
Something writ of the Reaper borne woe
Before fifty millenia rolled.
And I know what he has from so far back in time.
And I have it too.
At least one I do.
The Prothean Beacon of Eden Prime.
Liara rises and steps from the crew.
‘Shepard, if I may, I think I can help you.’

Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent

The Song of the Shepard: Canto 3 ~ The Search in Artemis Tau


 ⇐ Canto 2 ~ © Bioware  ~  Introduction
~ Stanza 1 · The Strike Team ~

Artemis Tau is a cluster of stars,
Middled aged stars, hot, pulsing red stars.
They glow in the distance like apricot moons,
Blazing unceasing in unfading noons.
The Artemis dust cloud, hanging in space
Glows like a tapestry red-gold with lace,
Half hiding the blaze of the great Milky Way
Returning the light of Artemis’ day.
Somewhere within this shining expanse
Is the only child of our foe’s confidant.
Whether Dr. T’Soni is friend or foe
At this point in time, I really don’t know.
But I fear the use she could be to Saren
And I hope she knows her mother’s location.

The Normandy’s all that they said she would be,
Quiet and fast and quite hard to see.
She runs like a dream (I think Joker’s in love)
Her drive core hums like a cooing dove.
The crew sails her well with eager intentions.
But under the surface, there’s simmering tension.
Presley, the Navigator and new XO,
Is clearly unhappy but won’t tell me so.
Gunnery-Chief Williams however speaks straight.
She doesn’t trust our alien shipmates.
She doesn’t like that they are aboard.
She grates me with her suspicious, sharp words.
‘Will this be a problem in combat, Williams?
I need you to be able to work with them.’
‘No, Ma’am. It won’t be. I can rub by.
It’s a matter of safety, of info-leaks.
But you ask me to jump, and I say, “how high”?
And if – “kiss a Turian”, well then, “which cheek”?’
She looks at me straight with bold black eyes,
Unabashed in her notions but bright in reply.
‘Well, I doubt kissing Turians will be necessary.
I’ll try not to ask you for something that scary.’
Wrex is merc, that is very true.
I don’t trust him and sometimes I rue
The impulse which led me to bring him aboard
Yet this is his job and he’s known for his word.
He chills and cracks tales in the hold below,
Makes no sort of trouble, deals no foul blows.
Tali – the girl’s barely more than a kid
Sent out alone, and for nothing she did.
The Quarian’s have a rite of passage
Which they call merely the ‘Pilgrimage’
The Migrant Fleet leaves them, all on their own
To sink or to swim when they’re barely full grown.
Those who return and bring back something more
Than they started out with, are brought back aboard.
Tali assures me it need not be much
Just something to prove that you don’t need a crutch.
Her people are nomads, floating in space.
They built the Geth – that fell robot race.
Their servants revolted. They fought for their lives.
The battle was lost and they took to the skies.
So they float ever in rickety-ships

Pressed for resources, counting their chips.
I can’t help but smile and laugh when I see
How amazed the girl is by the Normandy.
She’s made herself useful. She’s a sharp engineer.
Chief Engineer Adams likes having her here.
And eager young Garrus, the Turian cop?
He has already fought beside me.
In the dim and grungy back-alley
Young Tali’s would-be assassin he dropped.
Garrus left C-Sec over this case,
Sick of the red-tape, the time gone to waste
Grieved for the unavenged victims defaced
Enraged by this Turian disgrace.
And he is as eager as any man here
To track down this criminal, this scourge of fear.
No! I have no fear for Garrus!
Unless it just might be
That in his righteous anxiousness
To do the rightful deeds,
In his single-minded focus
On preventing some injustice
He may trample heedless over something just as large
And, unthinking, towards some evil innocently charge.
In honest cheer, he mentions once:
‘That’s what I like about the spectres.
How did you do it? It shouldn’t matter.
As long as you get the job done!’
‘Not if it gets people hurt, Garrus.
We have leave to ignore the red tape.
But the “how” darn well better matter to us.
We do things right. Are we straight?’
But it was the right he was talking about!
And not letting hurt happen for bureaucrats’ doubts!
At least Alenko does not seem to mind
The presence among us of alien-kind.
He has concerns for the mission, true.
He thinks that we’re in a political brew,
And he doesn’t quite trust large organizations
With all their politics and limitations.
The Council, yes, and the Alliance too.
They can be corrupt, unwise, and untrue.
The current struggle for clout and positions
Might get in the way of this critical mission.
But on the plain topic of ‘aliens’,
He doesn’t seem to think ill of them
He doesn’t claim any special mistrust.
He says:
‘They’re jerks and they’re saints – like us.’
When a distress call draws us from our course
To barren Edolus where lies the weak source.
It’s Tali and Garrus I take down with me
Down in the truck to look round and see.

~ Stanza 2 · On the Sands of Edolus ~

The sky is the colour of mustard brew.
The cold ground beneath us could never construe
A fleck of good earth on its sharp barren slopes.
Sand trickles round us in hard wind-blown ropes.
In our truck, the “Mako”, we search fruitlessly
The Quarian, the Turian, and human me.
The site is bare rock, sand, poison wind
Though we scour the ground where the signal rings.
But there’s scattered equipment about in the dust
Rent, as if gnawed, and half eaten with rust.
I know it still, the marks are still clear.
A squad of Alliance marines died here.
The killer soon finds us, a huge snake-like beast
With a foul ringed maw, and limbs many pieced.
I take the wheel and Garrus the guns.
Tali just tries to make sure the truck runs.
Long we give battle on pallid grey sands
Between the dark hills in their tumbling bands.
But the killer is killed by the Mako’s hot blasts
And Garrus’ quick eyes and his clawed hand so fast.
The marines who died did not send the call.
It was set up before, they were lured to their fall.
We cannot discover who did it or why,
Who set it up to send cries to the sky.
One well placed shot blows the death trap away.
We contact the ship, and we fly away.
No travellers more will be lured to its hands
But never those men will return from the sands.

~ Stanza 3 · World of the Ancients ~

Therum was formed many ages ago,
From the hot iron rocks that round Knossos flowed
For aeons it bloomed and blossomed and grew
Peoples there flourished, who we never knew.
Long since it was emptied of rational nau,
A few marks still stand, surviving somehow,
Where the land has not changed to bury them,
Where the sea has not risen engulfing them,
Where the mountains rose not to break them in pieces
Where they fell not as prey to weather’s caprices.
It’s chiefly for these few crumbling ruins
That the planet is taken note of at all
Few things now grow there
Wizened and small.
An ancient world, drawn close to its sun,
A sad, empty world, it’s days near done.

We turn to the miner’s posts. They send back our hails.
But no Asari is told in their tales.
So to barren ruins we turn our gaze,
Scanning for signs in each far hidden maze
Of recent activity, working machines
Or signs of life other than sad native gleams.
In a dry northern region not far from the pole
In a volcanic region where few things are whole
A ruin exists, extensive and crumbled
With quite recent structures, built-up and jumbled.
No one answers our hails, yet there’s movement below
So through the thin atmosphere down the ship goes.
I assemble two teams to search through the ruin.
I take Alenko and Garrus Vakarian,
The second I place under Williams’ command,
Assigning her Tali and Wrex as her band,
The Quarian mechanic and the big Krogan merc.
Show me you can, Williams. Make this team work.
We drop off Squad Bravo in a densely packed stretch
To search it on foot, while my squad takes the rest.

~ Stanza 4 · Dust and Ash ~

Over a rippled and reddened landscape
Lit up with the glow of the rivers that drape
Their hot molten ore across the worn bluffs
The Mako rumbles and climbs through the dust.
We call through the hot, thin, but breathable air,
We scan for fresh footprints on weathered stairs.
Our infra-red scanners are no good at all.
Volcanic activity makes life-forms too small
To stand out on the background of radiant heat.
We look with our eyes, there’s no way to cheat.
The sky is dark with volcanic smoke.
When the wind’s from the north the air starts to choke.
Garrus keeps checking we don’t dehydrate
And bits of heat training he coolly relates.
As Kaidan Alenko wipes sweat from his brow,
He points out that at least the humidity’s low.
They march cheerfully, stoutly along by my side
Combing the ruin in the dust, heat, and dry.
As we drive out of a rugged ravine
Onto a plateau that’s ripped up and seamed
I glimpse swift bipedals of polymer steel
I hit the accelerator, grip tighter the wheel.
‘Bravo Squad! We have Geth! Watch your backs!’ I shout.
‘Garrus! The guns. Lieutenant, scanner readout.’
A missile blast streams past
Crashes a cliff.
Rock flies into the skies.
The ground shifts.
This was the movement. Seen far from the sky.
They’re here for T’Soni, as foes or allies.
Those blocking our path fall to Garrus’ sharp aim
And we swiftly keep on by the rivers of flame.

~ Stanza 5 · The Guard at the Stope ~

Shortly we come to a pass through a cliff
So small and so steep that the Mako can’t fit.
We leave the truck parked and slip into the rift
And climb between boulders that crumble and shift
Till we emerge on a broad rising slope
That leads to a open, wide miners’ stope,
A recent built shaft leading into the ground
With modern metals and platforms framed round.
But the open equipment shed before it…
Our omni-tools’ radar is picking up hits.
Forward we dash to the shed and take shelter
Amongst the equipment which lies helter-skelter.
Then from the dust beyond the platform.
On four mighty legs like a spider deformed
There rises a huge and terrible Geth
Nearly as broad as the low structure’s breadth.
Great plasma bolts fly from its fearful head
Where the bolts crash, crushed metal glows red.
The lesser Geth fall as they come on.
But deadly, unmoved is the one beyond.
I lean out of cover to take a shot.
One moment I’m there, the next I am not.
I’m on the ground. My barrier’s down.
My limbs are numb, head’s spinning around.
Through foggy eyes, unfocused and red
I realize a Geth is come, over my head.
Crack! The sound of a lone sniper rifle.
The sharp scent of medi-gel through the air’s stifle.
And a big Turian claw and a strong human hand
Lift me back to my feet, and I find I can stand.
Of the small Geth, not one soldier remains.
The one Garrus shot was the last to be slain.
But still the colossus, huge in the gloom,
Hunts in the twilight of volcanic fume.
The walls are scorched with the plasma blasts,
The abandoned equipment is pulverized, smashed.
But we can still hide, make it guess where we are.
We don’t have to guess, it’s seen from afar.
Shot after shot, hurled biotic fields,
Little by little, we wear down its shields,
Til our blows against bare metal lash
And the monster topples; a screeching crash.

We sink down on the rubble bleeding and dazed
Exhausted and bruised, relieved and amazed.
Smoke fumes up from the wreck of our foe
On hot blistering winds to the ash clouds it blows.
We apply first-aid before we go on
Sitting under the ramp where the dark stope yawns.
The medi-gel seals our burning gashes
Cools inflammation from forceful crashes
Refreshes, revives, and clears our sore heads.
We rise, lift our gear, and march on ahead.

The stope leads steeply into the ground
Echoes rattle away as our booted feet pound.
Lamps flash up before us, lighting the mine,
Flicker out as we pass, dark follows behind.

~ Stanza 6 · The Maiden in the Ruin ~

Long we search through the ancient rooms
Their purpose lost in endless glooms
Til deep in the maze far under the ground
Where clatter of rock is the only sound
I see in the distance a pale cool light
Beyond the orange lamps, in the long buried night.
We follow and come to a gap in the wall
That seems to be filled with a waterfall,
Translucent, impassable, softly it glows
Over our faces its rippling light flows.
Suspended within it, a blue maiden floats.
To us she calls in mellifluous notes.
‘Hello! Hello! Can you hear me out there?
Please help me, I’m trapped, I’ve been caught in a snare.’
Her face is young, like a blooming girl
Smoothly away her pert head-tails curl.
Her eyes are as blue and as round as the sky.
Her small, dainty hands are work-hardened and dry.
She is dressed in a slender tunic of green.
That face is the sweetest that I’ve ever seen.
‘We hear you!’ I call. ‘We’ll get you out.
But what is your name? What is this about?’
‘I’m just a researcher, Liara T’Soni.
This is an old Prothean piece of security.
I turned the field on to hold off the Geth.
But I did something wrong…’ she seems short of breath.
‘-This was probably meant to catch persons of doubt.
Now the Geth can’t get in, but I can’t get out.’
‘Can you tell me how to shut down the field?’
‘Yes, there’s a button. Just past this shield.
It’s out of my reach, over there on the wall.
But you can’t get through here, that’s no good at all.
And I know of no other passage but this.
I cannot direct you to paths in the darkness.
‘We’ll find one.’ I say. ‘Stay calm, you’ll get out.’
‘The Geth have been trying, searching about.
Be careful out there, there’s a Krogan who leads them.
The Geth may be deadly, but beware of him!’
I call to the ship, let them know she’s been found,
But we’ll be some time for she’s bound underground.
We leave the blue maiden floating alone
And take a dark path leading off through the stone.

~ Stanza 7 · Farther into the Mine ~

Back and forth along the line
Through the dark and dusty mine
We travel scanning for a road
To lead us back into the hold
But paths all turn and twist away
Or turn to dead ends far from day.
At times we encounter small troops of Geth
Combing the labyrinth, searching the depths.
That they have pursued her is beyond doubt.
Garrus halloos:
‘Hey, Shepard! Check this out.’
It’s an old mining laser left here to rust
It’s worn, out of power, and covered in dust.
But he thinks he can get it to wake up and run
(He likes to tinker, it’s useful and fun.)
The miners left power banks, as shown by the lights.
Alenko sets out to the upper heights
To divert the power, whatever is left
And bring it down to the drill in the cleft.
I with my omnitool sound out the halls
The sonar bleeps testing the depth of the walls
The three of us haul the drill through the dark
To the spot that I’ve found, and set off a spark.
Red blazes hot in the narrow space
The three of us spin round and swiftly race
Away from the crack of rock, shatters of stone
As the drill breaks apart the earth’s granite bones.
Then the scream peters out and the light fades away.
And we make our way back through the settling stone spray
Of splintered rock and choking hot dust.
The drill’s power’s gone, the reserves hadn’t much.
But a broken path lies through the bone of the ground.
The granite still rumbles; a strange shifting sound.
The opening of the tunnel is wide
The rock sizzles and cracks as we walk inside.
The heat’s like an oven but air’s rushing through
The hot and the cold turning it to a flue.
As we go on it gets filled with crushed rock
Till near the end the path’s almost blocked
A biotic blast and then some hand-work
The narrow way widens. We climb through the murk.

~ Stanza 8 · The Quake ~

In the blackness we search for an upward path
Climbing old stairwells half fallen and crashed,
Counting the levels and measuring the depth
Making sure that our sense of direction is kept.
Our only light is the lamps on our guns.
Now and again, the uncountable tons
Of granite above us, grumble and shake,
Slow growing tremors, minor earth-quakes.
Finally above us, we see the blue light
And climb the last stairwell, blinking in bright.
‘You made it!’
Her voice falls like dew on the grass.
‘I was afraid there might be no way past!’
‘We couldn’t find one. So we made one instead.’
‘Oh. That’s what that was. The crash was widespread.
That panel, right there. It should release me.’
I reach out to touch it, but Garrus stops me.
‘Hang on, Shepard! You sure we can trust her?
Her mother’s with Saren. Where does that leave her?’
‘I am not my mother!’ Liara cries.
‘I don’t know how she joined Saren or why!’
Her voice is indignant, her head is held high
Her hov’ring form quivers, and flash her blue eyes.
‘The Geth are clearly pursuing her, Garrus.
And even if not, I’d still have to chance it.’
A moment’s work and the shimmering blue field
Flickers outs and collapses, the doorway unseals.
Liara lands lightly on slippered toes
And turns to face us where our white lamp light glows.
‘Thank-you. It was so long in the dark and the silence
… And the eyes of the Geth. You’re with the Alliance?’
‘Yes. I’m Commander Rosamund Shepard.
We came to find you, I take it you’ve heard
Of your mother’s friend and the people he slew.
Do you know why his Geth have come after you?’
‘No I do not!’ She shudders, and then:
‘You don’t suppose that Benezia sent them?’
Alenko speaks calmly out to her
‘You are a well known Prothean researcher.
Saren is looking for the “Conduit”.
He probably wants you to help search for it.’
Before Liara can answer a word,
A louder rumble, crashing, is heard.
The ground starts to shake and the stone above cracks.
Shattered rock crashes about in the black.
We’ve triggered an earthquake while under the ground.
This place is unstable. It’s going to come down.
‘Let’s go! No more words!’
I sprint through the trap.
Behind me, the three run behind in the black.
Without the orange lights, the way is more deadly
We run with our lamps held aloft so we see
The myriad pitfalls, precipitous drops,
The fallen stone heaps in leg breaking blocks.
Over my com, I hear Joker calling.
I do not stop. I answer while running.
‘That volcano, Commander? It’s having a fit.
We’ve got to leave soon or we’re going to catch it!’
‘Squad Bravo’s aboard?’
‘Not yet, Commander.’
‘What’s held them up?! Go get them, Joker.
We’re on our way now. I’ll send our nav-point.
And the Mako is parked. Near the gorge. Just adjoint.
Pick it up and stand by. We’ll be there. Soon.’
‘Okay, Commander. But she’s not immune.’
“She” is the Normandy, our beautiful ship.
Joker sounds worried…
                                           Crack! The wall rips.
Stone slides and crashes to depths we just guess.
Light shines ahead through a doorway, lifeless.

~ Stanza 9 · Envoy of Saren ~

In the chamber before us many Geth stand.
Silent and waiting, a cold statue band.
Through their ranks stumps a hulking orange mass.
Geth slide aside, and slide back when it’s past.
‘Just hand the Asari over, Human.
Or don’t. If you’d rather. That’s lots more fun.’
The maiden beside me stands straight and stiff.
The chamber walls shudder, an ancient sill slips.
‘This place is collapsing.’ I shout. ‘We can’t fight!’
He oafishly chortles: ‘Oh, we can alright.’
‘What do you want with Dr. T’Soni?’
‘Saren wants her for something, didn’t tell me.
You better come, girl. You’ll find out more later.
‘No!’ Liara’s voice rings through the air,
‘I will not go with you anywhere!
And I certainly will not help Saren the traitor!’
‘Thank-you, Liara T’Soni.’ I breathe.
I prepare to defend her. We all four will leave.
Alenko and Garrus, on our left and our right
Close quietly in, our circle grows tight.
The earth above groans in its own deadly fight.
Our barriers spring and our ring becomes bright.
‘You heard the Lady. Now let us pass!’
I speak mere defiance. He knows and he laughs.
His Geth slip tighter to seal fast the road.
‘One thing, ere we go-’ I add ‘-to what abode
Would you have taken her if she had come?’
‘To his ship!’ he snorts. ‘In space! Are you dumb?
Kill them.’ he croaks. ‘Except the Asari.
If you can help it. No skin off me.’
The change in the motionless horde is abrupt.
One moment they’re still. Then madness erupts.
The old dusty chamber so long dark and still,
Blazes with fury and gunfire screams shrill.
A whirlpool of chaos, of flying steel
Exploding plasma and biotic fields.
Tornadic winds send the dust all awhirl
Through the chaos the quake its sharp stone shards hurls.
On my right hand, Garrus’ rifle cries out
Back to my back, Alenko hurls Geth about.
n my left is the scholarly youthful blue girl.
But what is this? Around her light swirls!
I only half see her, beside as I fight
Yet her small hands spin masses of light,
Which form, coalesce into globes of dark blue
Pulsing and glowing with reflective hue,
And whirl away towards the mass of our foes
Catching them up in the field as they go.
The Krogan is dead. I saw not by whom.
Though we are battered, now fewer Geth loom
Driven back ‘neath our blasts to the walls of the room
Over our heads, the rocks itself booms.
‘Break off and come now!’ I shout to my crew,
And sprint up the steps to the chamber door, through.
‘Commander, where are you!?’ I hear Joker shout.
‘We’re coming! Hold on if you can!’ I call out.
Rock crashes behind, before, overhead.
I leap to the side and look back whence we sped.
‘Ahead of me! Go! Go! Straight up the slope!’
They hurtle past, in the dust, up the stope,
Garrus. Liara. Alenko. All there.
I swing in behind them and bring up the rear.
Light shines ahead, Therum’s dim, rusty day
Seen through the dust and the fallen stone spray.
We leap from the tunnel, are hit by a blast
Of scorching hot wind, choking and fast.
Through burned stinging eyes, we see just above,
The Normandy swoop like a great silver dove
Down through the dust and the smoke and the ash
Towards the slow spreading streams of earth’s blood that splash
Over the melting bones of the land
As the Mountain rumbles and coughs where it stands.
Before us she drops, her bay doors flung wide.
We sprint down the slope, and leap the divide.
The doors crash behind us. We breathe the cool air
As the Normandy bears us away from the flare.

~ Stanza 10 · In the Comm-room ~

The com-room is quiet, fresh, and clean.
Soft is the light from the circular walls
Silent the circle on which the light falls
Myself, T’Soni, and the two fire-teams.
I start to speak, but Joker’s wry tones
Come over the coms, in a sarcastic groan.
‘So, maybe, Commander, for next time, ya’know
Don’t have us land in an active volcano.
They tend to fry sensors, and sometimes melt hulls.
We almost went swimming like hot lava gull.’
Liara looks up as Joker’s tongue runs.
‘We nearly died and he’s making fun?’’
‘It’s a joke, he copes with stress that way.’
‘Oh. I see. I’ll get it someday.’
Williams gives me her mission report.
Her team hunted Geth up and down the old fort.
Urdnot Wrex, the biotic Krogan
Mistakenly calls his canon a shotgun.
In his wake a beeline of havoc burned
Structures fell and trucks overturned
The Geth he blasted from his path
Were trampled down in the crush of his wrath.
But little Tali, the Quarian girl,
With her clever fingers and purple swirls?
Way down low behind the lines
Out of sight and out of mind
Using mostly her omnitool
She hacked, overloaded, and the battlefield ruled.
Together they cleared posts near several stopes.
Williams’ tone is no-nonsense. Her tale fills my hopes.
I’d intended that they would do naught but search.
But they saw battle and she made it work.
The Asari researcher quietly sits
Watching us speak, her mild gaze flits
From one face to another, like a shy child
Though she’s held her own alone in the wild.
When I turn to her, she sits straight and replies
Looking up with her round, intense blue eyes.

~ Stanza 11 · The Archaeologist’s Tale ~

I explain the matter, the little we know
And ask of her mother allied with our foe.
‘No I don’t know if my mother is near.
We haven’t spoken in over a year.’
‘A year? Why so long? Did you two fall-out?’
‘Oh no. We’ve been busy, both travelling about.
I knew she was serving as Saren’s advisor
But I gave it no thought til I heard he turned traitor.
his only I know, the woman I knew
Would have never conspired, or consented to
An act such as that done on Eden Prime
No matter the goals or the passing of time.
I can only hope now, from where I stand
That she first went to hold back his hand
And draw him along to a gentler path
She’s done it before. I’ve seen it. She has.’
‘And what of this Conduit they’re searching for?
How does it connect to the Prothean’s war?’
‘I’ve never heard of the Conduit.
But, Commander, I can tell you this,
The Council is wrong, the Geth unit right.
The Protheans saw that terrible fight.
Something destroyed them. They didn’t decline.
This matches with everything I can find.
It’s said they just fell, as Empires do.
But I could find naught to attribute it to.
They didn’t destroy their resource base.
They had for their use everything found in space.
And their order, their structure, was maintained late
It didn’t fall to a slow, crumbling fate
Of corruption and layers of cancerous growth
Of disjointed complexities and broken troth.
It was cut off of a sudden. Still in its prime.
And all in a very, very short time.
And – here’s the thing – they were not the first,
They were not the only to be thus curst.
Such civilizations have risen before
Though they come barely into our lore.
The Protheans killed them? No. Not at all.
Though that is the reason most thought for their fall.
The dates are not right. It doesn’t add up.
If they had, they would interrupt.
But the latest known marks of the elder folk
Were abandoned before the younger awoke.
Almost nothing we know goes back farther in time
But the little I’ve found, suggests it still rhymes.
A cycle of rises and then sudden falls,
Externally forced, not natural.
The record is strange to be so incomplete
Small quiet ruins pop up like wheat…
It’s like someone’s consciously foiling us.
Like somebody wiped the Galaxy bare
And purposely hid the past from us.’

She pauses a moment, inclines her blue head.
I’m young, and my theory hasn’t yet been much read.
And the lack of specific records of this
Have prevented others from suggesting it.’
‘Well, just how young are you?’ I ask the young lady.
I know spans are longer among the Asari.
She blushes and takes a deep breath ere she speaks.
‘I’m only one-hundred-two years and eight weeks.’
Williams interjects, blithely amazed.
‘I hope that I look that good at your age.’
‘Among the Asari I’m counted quite young.
A child almost, a girl barely sprung.
But, Commander, this is what alarms me.
If I see truly what I think I see,
If this is a cycle, as it appears,
Predictable over an average of years
Then within my life-time the next wheel is due
And we will fall. If the pattern holds true.’
Nobody moves and no one replies.
The sights of the beacon swim in my eyes.
‘Commander,’ Liara looks up to me.
‘I do not know how much use I can be,
I’m not an engineer or a mercenary,
I don’t have the intel, and I am sorry,
But, let me come with you,
I will try to help you,
There’s few who know even the little I know
Of the last cycle spun so long ago.’
She sits, parted lips, hands folded before her,
Like a child facing a group of her elders.
But now that her explanation is oer
She look as though she’ll droop down to the floor.
Her eyelids flutter and trembling blue hands
Rest on unsteady legs still covered in sand.
‘Hey, you don’t look so good, Dr. T’Soni.’
Alenko bends forward, his arm on his knee.
‘How long has it been since you ate? Or slept?’
‘Yes!’ agrees Wrex. ‘You need need food and rest!
Your kind aren’t as hardy as mine.’
(The Krogan is gruff, but I think it’s meant kind.)
‘Maybe you should see the ship’s doctor.’
Alenko recommends to her.
‘I suppose … seeing a medic wouldn’t hurt.’
Liara agrees. She seems to exert.
‘Of course you must, I’ll send someone to guide you.
She gets first check-up, but the rest of you too.
But one more moment, before you all go
Our colony, Zhu’s Hope, on the planet Feros,
As I recall, was built on a ruin
Ancient, alien, and I think Prothean.
Anderson said that they’d seen Geth about.
What might they have done there, what did they find out?
It can’t be coincidence Geth were there too.
They went for the ruins, or I misconstrue.’
‘The towers of Feros!’ Her tired eyes light.
‘I’ve heard, but I haven’t yet gone to that site.’
‘Then come with us now, Doctor! We’ll follow his trail.
What I’ve seen matches far, far too well with your tale.’

Canto 4 ⇒

Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent

As Regards The Re-appearance of Commander Shepard

(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

Deviantart Showcase – September 2016: ‘In the End…’

Planetaryjunction’s gorgeous render is not only one of the best ‘after the war’ pieces out there, it is – in my opinion – among the very loveliest works of Mass Effect fanart ever to be released on the internet.  The sweet subtlety of the light; its dusky shadows half concealing the ferns and their hands in the grass, the warm, soft, contented glow which suffuses and over-arches the whole image.  The simple, perfect composition of the two lovers amongst the leaves.  The beautiful treatment of the two characters themselves – there is none of the unwieldiness which so often plague such pieces; they look not only natural, but truly like themselves.  I see the quiet poise of Liara, and the relaxed self-possession of Shepard.

I think it a great pity that this is one of but two Mass Effect images that Planetaryjuction placed on deviantart.  The other ‘Wish me Luck’ is also a Shepard and Liara picture – a farewell on Ilium.


This – though in my opinion far the inferior of the two – would in itself have placed Planetaryjuction in the very highest level of unofficial Mass Effect artists.  I’m sorry that these were the only we saw from him.  But!  I’m all for quality over quantity, and that certainly is the case here.

‘Wish me luck’ is taken from the middle of the Saga, with all the worst yet to come.  It seems to me that the uncertainty and the looming darkness are well conveyed in the cold color of the light and the distant, dark, separate nature of the surrounding structures.  The couple is pressed tight together, cut off from the hard, unfriendly world around them.

How different are the warm tones and the friendly closeness between the people and the world in ‘In the End…’.  Here the couple is not only relaxed in, but also a part of, the world around them.  Their fingers twine in the grass and the gentle leaves brush them.  The light does not come coldly from a distance, but surrounds and bathes both them and the friendly, embracing world.

It is titled, ‘In the End…’, and subtitled ‘My End’.  And that is exactly what it is.  Not only does the whole thing breathe of the content, the unafraid, the renewed life after the dark, the sweet maturity of the story that blossomed between these two … belonging on at the end.  But this is a particular end.  The end that belongs to one Shepard, an end that not all would choose – that not all could reach even if they did choose.

It seems to be a common fear that since the ‘end’ of the game cut off so soon – the story too was ended thus.  The artist himself seems to fear this, and from the manner in which he presented this one almost gathers he put it forward in quiet defiance of the inexcusable ending of such a story.  And he was quite right to do so.  To view that tale as simply over at the end is unthinkable. And yet …. even within the context of the game, the story does not truly ‘end’.  The game ends true – but it ends with a beginning.  And though we are not shown much of what it is that has begun, it may very well have been this.  It is no contradiction of the story, but rather a forging forward into it.  Since ‘Mass Effect’ did not tell us the specifics of the new it showed beginning, who but each of us individually may say what happened next … in our end.

And few endings could be more beautiful than this.
Fan-art criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent