What Was Lost
*Note - this prologue is mostly for setting up the rest of the story. It'll slow down after this, once all the characters are together. Hope you enjoy the story and thanks for reading!*
Darkness all around her.
Then the memory. Had it been hers? She didn't think so. But it was hers now.
A war... Machines... Blood... Terror...
"Shepard?" The voice intruded into the scenes playing out before her. Somehow, she knew it didn't belong here. And it could lead her out. Back to the light. She reached out to it, but it slipped through her fingers. The vision sunk its claws back into her. It dragged her down. Into the memories.
Pain flooded thoughout her body. It coursed in her veins. She felt her flesh tearing as the machines shots ripped through her. She died, her life leaking out on an alien world. Her last sight was a massive... ship... of some kind lifting off.
No, not a ship, the visions insisted. A word floated to her through the haze of death...
Then she was fighting again. Her line was holding back the reapers. They fought for hours, holding on far past the estimates of their centurion. There was nowhere to retreat to anyway. So they fought until they died. She was one of the last to fall. Perhaps their sacrifice would buy time for other worlds to organize some resistance, she thought as she died. Perhaps her son still lived...
She lived life after life. Death after death. She died on a command ship, crashing it into one of the enemy. She died on a small moon, buying time for scientists to escape with their readings. She died defending a sector capital, stabbed through the chest by an Indoctrinated traitor. She died leading a futile counter-charge. She died in her home, vaporized by a beam that destroyed half the building.
And after every death, just one word.
"Can't you do anything for her, Doc?" The voice again. She jumped for it, before the pain could take her again. This time, she could feel the voice. It was pulling her out of the visions, out of the darkness. She climbed it, desperate to leave the memories of the war. Somehow, instinctively, she knew if she didn't leave now, she would die in truth.
The word ripped into her. It echoed through her entire being. She was out of the visions, but the Word had shaken her hold on the voice. She searched, desperate for a landmark, but found only darkness stretching out before her.
It wasn't the voice, but it wasn't the Word or the visions either. She walked... drifted? ... towards the light. It was gentle, soothing, calming. It washed over her, bathing her in a sense of peace. She let herself flow into it. She could feel it leading her to sleep.
And in the middle of the light there was...
Who is that? Her mind struggled to form the words. For some reason, they didn't want to come. Other words tried to take their place, foreign words. They tickled her mind, on the edge of understanding.
The figure reached out to her, its hand guiding her further into the light. She could feel the pain from the visions draining out of her, letting her finally rest.
I need to know, who is that? She turned as sleep pulled her, seeking to get a better look at the figure in the light. She felt...
Yes, that was the word. The figure was important. Was part of her. Sleep tugged at her, dragging away the last shreds of conscious thoughts.
I have to... find...
Sleep finally took her.
Shepard woke up, looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling. The gentle thrum of a ship engine vibrated the deck and walls, and a bright light shone down from a fixture above her. The sharp scent of disinfectant permeated the room.
So, a med bay. She tried to focus, but her eyes didn't want to cooperate. She heard something... someone... speaking to her left. She groaned as she sat up.
Yes, Kaiden and Doctor Chakwas were there. They asked her questions, pretty much what she expected. She also had questions for them. She tried to remember what had happened after the beacon had activated. It was important. But the vision, the memories tangled together, and only fragments floated out of the mess.
"I saw -- I'm not sure what I saw. Death. Destruction. Nothing's really clear."
And the figure in the light. The figure that had saved her. She still couldn't recall details of the figure beyond a vague outline, though the sense of peace, of utter connection was crystal clear in her mind. She debated telling them about the figure, but some part of her decided not to. It seemed too... intimate... to share.
Intimate? Where the heck did that come from? It was the right word, however. She blushed at the thought.
When she looked up, Kaiden was glancing at her, but before he could say anything, the door to the medbay opened, and Captain Anderson walked in. Saved!
Shepard looked out the window, staring at the ships coming and going from the Citadel. A flight of sleek asari ships glided gracefully past a bulky volus freighter. Salarian scouts drifted out, leaving for some spy mission most likely. Angular turian warships cut through the traffic like sharks, their sharp lines drawing the eye. And floating majestically in the middle of it all, the Destiny Ascension. It dwarfed the other ships, far outclassing anything humanity had ever built.
The sheer scope of the traffic, of the Citadel itself was daunting. Kaiden and Ashley were openly staring. Even Shepard felt like a tourist, despite growing up in a military family and living around fleets her whole life.
She shook her head. They had work to do. The council needed more proof before they'd act against Saren Arterius.
"Skipper, we need to find something solid. Witnesses and testimonies aren't going to work. These know-nothings won't believe humans unless we give them something they can hold in their hands... claws... whatever."
Shepard frowned a bit. Ashley was certainly a brave and capable soldier, but her racism was a hinderance. It seemed almost personal at times. She made a mental note to ask Ash about it when things weren't so hectic.
"Commander, I agree we need something tangible, but we need help too. This place is huge, and the three of us are new. We need someone who can show us the ropes around here."
"Lieutenant, no offense, but could we trust one of... them?" Ash gestured vaguely. Yes, there was definitely something more to this.
"What about that Garrus? He seemed to be already after Saren too. He might know something that can help us."
"A turian? You had one die on the mission with us already, and another led the attack on us. Do you really think that would be a good idea?"
"What would you have us do, Williams? It would take us a century or two to search this place on our own."
"Still... a turian?"
"Enough, Williams." Shepard looked around as she cut off the excitable soldier. "Kaiden's right, we need some help. And pooling our resources sounds like a good idea." She pointed to a sign. "We're near that med clinic he's investigating, we might as well start with him."
Garrus Vakarian glanced at the two humans as their elevator descended towards the C-Sec main office. One of them... William? Williams?... yes, Williams, kept shooting him annoyed glares when she thought he wasn't looking. He sighed to himself. He knew that look. Most humans living on the Citadel were fairly easy to get along with, but there were always some...
He shifted his attention to the other, Commander Shepard. At first glance, she was nothing special. One more human soldier. But there was more to her. Much more.
She moved naturally in her armor, obviously comfortable with it from long experience. And of course, there was the telltale faint glow of dark energy. He shook his head. He had read reports that the humans integrated their biotics into regular units, rather than keeping them in cabals like the turians used, but this was his first experience with an Adept-level human biotic.
Beyond that, she had been polite and friendly. She helped him take out the thugs threatening his friend, Dr. Michel. When they got down to business and discussed Saren, she listened to him and asked him to help. No questions about his trustworthiness, no pointless discussions about office politics. She trusted him. How long had it been since someone had?
And now they were going to find a Krogan who might know more about a gangster named Fist. Shepard had sent the third human back to report on their progress, so it was just him, Williams, and Shepard.
He smiled. He was headed into action. With a comrade who trusted him and was honest with him. Life was finally getting good.
Urdnot Wrex stared at the little human in front of him. Other krogan might dismiss her. A human, a female human. He knew better.
He absently fingered a scar on his chin. Lanaiya. It was so long ago, but he could still remember the shock when the asari had nearly killed him. I thought she was just a dancer. She taught me so many... pleasurable... things... He grinned wryly to himself, feeling a faint echo of pain from the scar. And other lessons too. They weren't as much fun, but I needed to learn them.
Still, this human seemed a cut above the rest of the squishies, and she was going after Fist too, so why not tag along?
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya shuddered. She had nearly died. The Shadow Broker had set her up! And now here she was, sitting in the embassy for the humans on the Citadel. If she told her father, he'd probably think this was just a story she was put up to by her Auntie Raan...
She glanced over at the humans talking. The ambassador, Udina, was less than pleased at her prescence. He looked at her like she was a mechanic thoughtlessly tracking grease onto a liveship. He was definitely upset at all the aliens in his office.
Apparently the soldier, Ashley, shared the opinion. She wore a frown whenever she looked her way, or at Garrus or Wrex. The other one, Kaiden, seemed more accepting, though he wasn't really paying her much attention. He was looking over at the third armored human.
She had appeared like a spirit sent by the ancestors. She took apart the Shadow Broker's thugs almost effortlessly, her skill with biotics and weapons dropping the assassins.
And there was more. Shepard was the first person on the Citadel who treated her well. Prejudice against quarians was bad, especially with the recent rumors of Geth. Quarians on Pilgrimage were especially looked down upon. Oh, the ambassador had been polite, especially when he heard about the geth data core she recovered, but it was just empty courtesy.
Shepard cared. She honestly was glad to have saved Tali. She had accepted her offer of help gratefully. It was so nice. Someone cared about her and was happy to see her.
Shepard was fascinating for other reasons too. She was a biotic, and a powerful one, if Tali understood it. Biotics were very rare among quarians; Tali herself had never talked with one beyond a few sentences. And her hair! It was the most exotic shade of red... It went so well with her green eyes...
Keelah! Focus! Shepard was heading her way. She looked excited; evidently whatever the humans had been debating had ended in her favor.
"So Miss Zorah, are you willing to show that recording to the Council with us?"
"Of course... and it's Tali, Commander."
"Shepard then, Commander is for Alliance." She grinned at Tali, who found herself smiling back, despite the human's inability to see it through the mask.
Shepard stepped into the elevator, feeling relieved to get off the command deck. Despite his words, she could tell that Navigator Pressley disliked the aliens she had brought aboard. He also thought heading to find this scientist Liara first was a waste of time. At least he agreed to follow her lead on it. She rubbed her head. Command just seemed to bring problem after problem.
She pressed the button for the engineering deck. Time to get to know her latest recruits.
Getting answers out of Wrex took effort, but it was worth it. Learning he had worked a job a while ago with Saren was a shock. And hearing how the other mercs had all died under mysterious circumstances... While it had no effect on their current mission, it might help her later.
Ashley hadn't been in a mood to talk. Shepard left her to taking inventory on the new weapons they had picked up from the Spectre supply clerk, choosing to give her time to get used to the rest of her squad.
She looked over. Garrus sat on a small crate next to the Mako, a datapad in his hand. He's actually reading the specs for it. She walked over, keeping her steps quiet. "Hello, Garrus."
"Oh, commander! I didn't hear you." The way he jerked up in surpise brought a smile to her face.
They talked for a while. He told her about leaving C-Sec, and his worries about what his father would think of it. It was nice to talk to someone who was open with her. After dealing with Udina and the Council, she could feel herself relaxing and simply enjoying herself. Unlike Kaiden, Garrus had a dry sense of humor and a generally positive outlook.
Neither of them noticed time passing as they kept talking.
Tali looked around the engine room. Amazing! An actual working stealth drive, and I get to work on it! She could barely believe how much her luck had turned around. In the space of a day, she had gone from being hunted by the Shadow Broker's assassins to being the chief assistant engineer on one of the most advanced ships in known space.
And the crew! Aside from a few like Chief Williams and Pressley, they had all treated her well. Chief Adams, the head of the engineering team, had been especially nice. She impressed him with her work on the cooling controls. They talked, and he told her she reminded him of his daughter back on Asteria. She was about to tell him of her father and the migrant fleet when the door to the engine room opened.
"Commander, I'm sorry to hear about Anderson, but I'm glad that if anyone is going to take over, it's you." Adams saluted as Shepard walked in. Shepard chatted with Adams for a few minutes then walked over to her.
Even in casual ship wear, Shepard was impressive. She was so confident. And the way she moved...
She shook her head. Later. Thankful that the mask hid her blush, she returned Shepard's greeting.
Tali lost track of time as they talked. Shepard genuinely wanted to know about her. She listened to what Tali had to say about the Migrant Fleet and the rocky start she had with her Pilgrimage. It came as a surprise to find out that Shepard had grown up around ships too. She had travelled with her parents as a child, then enlisted as soon as she graduated.
"Oh, before I forget, here." Shepard handed her a datapad. "That's your room assignment, and authorization to alter it as needed. Let Adams know if you need any help."
Tali stared at her. My own room! It usually took at least a tour or two before junior crew on the flotilla earned their own rooms. "Shepard, are you sure about this? I know space on a ship is always at a premium."
Shepard grinned at her. Her smile is beautiful... "Would you rather I put you in one of the sleep pods?"
"No, no! I was just a bit shocked."
"I could also have you bunk with Ashley..."
"It's fine, really..."
"Maybe the gym after Wrex is done working out... Your mask does filter smells, right?"
Liara shivered as she relaxed back in the chair. That had been far too close! She could still feel the heat from the lava they had barely escaped from. And that human pilot joked about them almost dying. Such an odd species.
Still, she was alive, and the commander of the ship had given her full use of the science room adjacent to the med bay. After getting checked by the ship's doctor, she settled in to review the data the commander had sent her. The door hissed open behind her. Speaking of the commander...
Shepard was intriguing. She had let down her red hair from the ponytail she had worn during the mission and debrief, and now it hung to her shoulders. Her green eyes sparkled in the dim light of the room and she walked with easy confidence. She could feel the dark energy flowing through the commander. It wasn't as strong as during the fight in the Therum ruins, but the fact that she could feel it at all meant Shepard must be a very strong biotic, possibly even commando level...
She also had directly interacted with a prothean beacon. Shepard had told her what she could, though it hadn't been much. Apparently, much of the beacon vision was still jumbled up in her mind. I wouldn't mind linking with her... Shepard's eyes were her best features, Liara decided, a deep sea green... Link to see the vision! Just the vision! Her hair was incredible too; hair was very uncommon among the council races, and Shepard's was unusual even among humans. It was like sunset after a storm...
Shepard talked with her for a while. She didn't seem bothered at all that her mother was working with a traitor. Her mother...
She still didn't know what to think about that. The voice had definitely been her, but there was no way she could picture Benezia helping with a slaughter like Eden Prime. Her mother had to be sick, or blackmailed, or something. Nothing else made sense.
"I'll stop by later, Liara."
"I'd like that, Shepard."
Shepard lay on her bed in the captain's cabin. My cabin, she reminded herself. It still didn't feel right. She tried to sleep, but her mind kept bouncing around. They had been chasing rumors of Saren for weeks now, and tempers were running hot.
Kaiden had been showing interest in her, beyond just friends, for a while, and his jealousy was starting to show. He always seemed to be around the corner when she visited Liara in the science lab or talked with Garrus down in the cargo bay. Even so, he was still a good friend, and it was nice to have someone to talk to about things. His biotics also made him a good sparring partner for her; she was a lot stronger, but he had more experience.
I need to talk to him soon. I like him, but not in the way he wants. I need to be honest with him. She hoped he understood.
Ashley seemed to be coming around, at last. She had talked with her, found out about her grandfather and her troubles with the military screwing her over for promotions and duty assignments. Time with Garrus and Wrex and Tali had also seemed to help. Ash still didn't like them having full access to the Alliance's top ship, but she was definitely warming up to them.
Wrex was fun to talk to. He had some great stories, though it usually took some prompting to get him to spill. He was definitely not what she had been led to expect from a Krogan. He cared about his people, wanted the best for them.
Garrus and Tali had rapidly become her best friends. She could understand Garrus chafing at all the rules and regulations C-Sec had imposed. She sympathized with him; being a Spectre was freeing. He also genuinely wanted to help. She admired the way he handled himself on the missions, and found herself watching him when he'd work out or practice.
Tali also opened up to her. Shepard found she could talk with her about anything. They even ended up having a movie night once a week. Tali chose Fleet and Flotilla for the first one, then Shepard picked Attican Rising: Revenge of the Betrayed. Even on other nights, Shepard would find Tali knocking on her cabin, wanting to talk or just sit and read with her.
Liara intruded in her thoughts in a different way. After working with her for weeks, she was starting to appreciate why so many human males were attracted to the asari. There was something about Liara that drew her in. They would go over what she could remember of the vision, Liara helping her to pry more details from the tangled mess in her mind, and Shepard would find herself losing focus, just enjoying looking into her eyes.
The last talk, their hands had touched. Liara hadn't noticed, but Shepard felt like her whole body was on fire. I'm sorry Kaiden, you're nice and all, but I never felt anything like this with you. She had rushed out of the cabin after that and taken a long shower; hopefully Liara didn't take it the wrong way. That was... amazing just doesn't come close to it. I don't think there's a word that does.
She sighed. Her crew wasn't the only thing on her mind.
She held up her hand, concentrating. There was a slight delay before the dark energy gathered. It had been happening more and more. Ever since the prothean beacon had done... whatever it was it had done to her..., her biotics had been erratic. It wasn't noticeable to anyone else, but Shepard could feel it. Sometimes the energy would gather slowly. Other times... she shivered, recalling the last mission they had been on.
Her biotics had not been slow that time. In fact, she had barely been able to control the flow of power that surged up in her. It was all she could do not to release it and crush everything in sight. Thankfully, Garrus and Tali took care of the enemy.
Rogue Spectres, an ancient war with machines, crew troubles, romance, and now my biotics are acting up... I better get a bonus for dealing with all this!
*Next chapter, the Normandy heads to Noveria. Shepard's problems grow - corporations, complications, and a kiss...*