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

© Bioware  ~  Introduction

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

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

~ Stanza 3
· In the Hold ~

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

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

~ Stanza 5
· The Scholar’s Dream ~

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

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

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

~ Stanza 7
· Farewell, Williams ~

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

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

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

~ Stanza 10
· The Council s Fatuity ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 13
· The Alliance Calls ~

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

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 15
· The Bunker ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Effect Poetry  by Charlotte Ann Kent

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

The Song of the Shepard: Canto 2 ~ The Citadel

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

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

~ Stanza 2 · Close Council ~

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

~ Stanza 3 · The First Contact War ~

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

~ Stanza 4 · The Lieutenant ~

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

~ Stanza 5 · Into the Serpent Nebula ~

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

~ Stanza 6 · Aboard the Presidium ~

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

~ Stanza 7 · The Council ~

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

~ Stanza 8 · Searching for Leads ~

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

~ Stanza 9 · In the Clinic ~

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

~ Stanza 10 · Battle in the Wards ~

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

~ Stanza 11 · The Reapers ~

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

~ Stanza 12 · Spectre ~

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

~ Stanza 13 · The Merc ~

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

~ Stanza 14 · Farewell to the Captain ~

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

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

 Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent
   Canto 3 ⇒

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 3 · Distress Call ~

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

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

~ Stanza 4 · Colony Approach ~

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

~ Stanza 5 · Death in Eden Prime ~

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

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

~ Stanza 6 · The Gunnery-Chief ~

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

~ Stanza 7 · The Prothean Dig Site ~

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 9 · Betrayed ~

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

~ Stanza 10 · Saren’s Command ~

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

~ Stanza 11 · Battle of the Space Port ~

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

~ Stanza 12 · The Beacon ~

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

Canto 2 ~ The Citadel ⇒


Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent