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

© Bioware  ~  Introduction

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

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

~ Stanza 3
· In the Hold ~

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

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

~ Stanza 5
· The Scholar’s Dream ~

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

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

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

~ Stanza 7
· Farewell, Williams ~

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

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

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

~ Stanza 10
· The Council s Fatuity ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 13
· The Alliance Calls ~

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

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 15
· The Bunker ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Effect Poetry  by Charlotte Ann Kent


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

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

c4-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

c3

 ⇐ 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.’
‘Damn!’
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

Deviantart Showcase November 2016: ‘Exploring’

exploring_by_shalizeh-d8iyklf-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fan-art Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

The Song of the Shepard: Canto 2 ~ The Citadel

c2
⇐ Canto 1  ~ © Bioware  ~  Introduction
~ Stanza 1 · In the Med-bay ~

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

~ Stanza 2 · Close Council ~

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

~ Stanza 3 · The First Contact War ~

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

~ Stanza 4 · The Lieutenant ~

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

~ Stanza 5 · Into the Serpent Nebula ~

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

~ Stanza 6 · Aboard the Presidium ~

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

~ Stanza 7 · The Council ~

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

~ Stanza 8 · Searching for Leads ~

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

~ Stanza 9 · In the Clinic ~

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

~ Stanza 10 · Battle in the Wards ~

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

~ Stanza 11 · The Reapers ~

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

~ Stanza 12 · Spectre ~

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

~ Stanza 13 · The Merc ~

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

~ Stanza 14 · Farewell to the Captain ~

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

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

 Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent
   Canto 3 ⇒

As Regards The Re-appearance of Commander Shepard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 3 · Distress Call ~

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

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

~ Stanza 4 · Colony Approach ~

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

~ Stanza 5 · Death in Eden Prime ~

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

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

~ Stanza 6 · The Gunnery-Chief ~

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

~ Stanza 7 · The Prothean Dig Site ~

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

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

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

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

~ Stanza 9 · Betrayed ~

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

~ Stanza 10 · Saren’s Command ~

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

~ Stanza 11 · Battle of the Space Port ~

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

~ Stanza 12 · The Beacon ~

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

Canto 2 ~ The Citadel ⇒

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Mass Effect Poetry by Charlotte Ann Kent