The Song of the Shepard: Canto 5 ~ Virmire

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

~ Stanza 2
· The Council ‘s Behest ~

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

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

~ Stanza 3
· Into the Traverse ~

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

~ Stanza 4
· Planet Approach ~

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

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

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~ Stanza 6
· The Fall of the AA Tower ~

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

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

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~ Stanza 8
· Report on the Base ~

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

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~ Stanza 9
· The Krogan ~

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

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

~ Stanza 11
· The Lieutenant and the Gunnery Chief ~

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

~ Stanza 12
· Shadow Team ~

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

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

~ Stanza 13
· The Assault Team ~

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

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

~ Stanza 14
· Parting of Ways ~

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

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

~ Stanza 16
· Sovereign ~

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

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

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

~ Stanza 17
· Fall of a Captain ~

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

~ Stanza 18
· Planting the Bomb ~

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

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

~ Stanza 19
· The Call ~

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

~ Stanza 20
· Running ~

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

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

~ Stanza 22
· Saren Arturius ~

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


~ Stanza 23
· Fight at the Bomb Site ~

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

virmire

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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