"Go back to Rannoch. Build yourself a home."
"I HAVE A HOME!"
Tali's voice buckled and cracked under the emotional pressure. Shepard could distinctly hear her sobbing beyond the opaque faceplate. In it, he saw his own reflection, and that of Harbinger behind him, preoccupied presently with shooting down Alliance shuttles - but it was a matter of time before he would turn his attention to the Normandy, and that was a big no-no.
"Garrus--" Shepard called out to his friend, who grabbed Tali in a bear hug, practically dragging her away from Shepard.
"It's something I have to do alone, Tali," he said, almost as if begging for forgiveness, turning his back on the ship as it lifted off.
"At least take this!" she called out, tossing some small device out through the closing hatch. He picked it off the ground, but before he could get a good look at it, the air sizzled around him with the distinctive WWHOOAARRMMM of the Reaper beam - Harbinger finally noticed his nemesis.
Ducking for cover behind a burnt-out MAKO, Shepard looked at the device - a double-secured button on a transmitter of some kind, outfitted with kitbashed addons he could not begin to guess the purpose of.
"Tali, what is this?" he asked, rolling out of cover as the next beam cleaved the MAKO in half, sending pieces of debris flying every which way.
"Another of Xen's toys. Several of our liveships are equipped with a supersized version of the Arc Cannon," came the Quarian's tear-filled voice over the comms, stumbling over the words as she fought back her tears, "When you hit that button, it gives off a signal that should penetrate any cover or ECM system we know of - and thanks to the Geth, we know a lot about the Reaper ones now."
"And then? It zaps wherever I stand?" Shepard asked incredulously, dashing downhill, narrowly avoiding Harbinger's blasts. Their erratic nature showed the Old Machine's indignation - he wasn't even trying to talk down to Shepard like before, just swatting at him like a bothersome insect. Because that, ultimately, was what he really was to the Reapers. An insect.
"Click once, it fires in seven minutes, click twice or click before the timer runs out, and it fires the moment you release the button a second time," Tali went on, growing more serious and composed as she spoke. Tech talk always helped her nerves.
"And if I need to set it off remotely?"
"There, the frequency is now in your omni-tool. Keelah See'lai."
"Keelah Se--" Shepard began before one of Harbinger's blasts landed square on him.
"SO BE IT," the hologram said, its voice betraying its nature, for it was the voice of a Reaper, and that Reaper was pissed.
"I'm sorry we don't quite fit the profile of the ideal slave race," Shepard said, tossing the handgun aside and fumbling in his belt for something. "I guess that is our... character flaw."
He produced the little gray metal box, flicking open the first button cover like one would a cigarette lighter or a heat sink dispenser, except this one was much smaller than that.
"WHAT IS THIS?" the hologram asked, flickering red for an instant, its voice having abandoned all pretense of mimicking human speech. The voice was similar to Harbinger's, but it sounded... old, infinitely ancient, even more so than that of Sovereign or Harbinger or that nameless Reaper he killed on Rannoch.
"A footnote in your long and glorious history," Shepard replied, flicking open the second cover, designed in opposition to the first, as an obvious precaution against unplanned activation.
"Yes, an addendum. A blurb. A small addition," Shepard went on, clicking the button and dropping the object on the floor. He turned towards the elevator platform, trying to keep his pace steady as he hobbled towards it.
"HUMOUR ME. WHAT WILL THE FOOTNOTE SAY?"
"Fuck you and the Citadel you rode in on," Shepard said, waving his omni-tool at the elevator, the ICE-breaker software he had Xen build for him from Chorban's notes overriding the elevator's controls. Descending, he grinned at the hologram as it vanished from view.
"You want WHAT?"
Daro'Xen was furious, the nerve of this... this... human! Not only did he dare convert Tali'Zorah to his beliefs, he also had the audacity to... mate with her? And then ask this of Daro herself?
"I want you to find out how the Citadel's energy systems function. Here," he brandished a datapad, "Are research notes from a scientist that spent years on studying the keepers. Here," he produced another, "Are the notes we recovered from Ilos regarding the modifications the Prothean scientists made to them. I want you to make me a keeper emulator."
"You mean, something that would make the Citadel regard you as a keeper?"
"Yes, and let me control its functions," Shepard replied with an tired sigh. The fight with Kai Leng took a lot out of him, and didn't exactly help his accumulated lack of sleep. Whether he didn't sleep because he didn't have the time or because he was avoiding the nightmares was a question he did not want to ponder.
"Why would you need that? Especially now that the Citadel is gone who-knows-where?"
"We know where. But we don't know why. And the fact that the Crucible, a supposedly anti-Reaper weapon suddenly needs a Reaper device - The Reaper Trap Device, in fact - to function, it raises what used to be mere suspicions into all-out paranoia."
"What if it doesn't work out? It's not like I can field-test it, can I?" Daro'Xen asked, finally accepting the datapads.
"I know. I also know that you're the only one who can pull it off," Shepard replied earnestly.
"You bosh'tet," Daro'Xen said after a slight pause, "Alright, I'll do it. But I am not sleeping with you."
The two last surviving Arc-equipped liveships were surrounded and cut off from allied forces. When the signal arrived, sending that one special ping Admiral Zorah warned them about, the comms operators almost simultaneously called out to their captains, relaying the signal contents. The two captains, unanimously and unbeknownst to each other, gave the same order, their ships executing virtually identical maneouveres. It was pure blind luck that they both were within firing range of the Citadel's Presidium ring, the underbelly of which was the origin point of the signal, right below the Crucible dock point.
"WHAT DID YOU DO, HUMAN?" The voice semed to follow him as he moved. Chancing a look behind, Shepard saw the hologram coalesce near the control panel, its feet standing partway through The Illusive Man's corpse.
"Gave you a-- unghhh-- reality check," Shepard replied, hoisting Anderson's body over his shoulder. The pain in his side intensified tenfold, but he gritted his teeth, hoping his cybernetics would pick up the slack long enough.
"You don't know what it is, do you?" Shepard laughed, his voice reverberating eerily across the energy-filled chasm. "That must be a first, being the all-knowing, all-powerful God From The Machine... that doesn't actually know anything."
"IT IS YOU WHO KNOWS NOTHING, HUMAN."
"Then stop me. If you can," Shepard said, almost gloating. The Keepers in the corpse-filled hallway lurched towards him, but a wave of his omni-tool sent them backing off. He gritted his teeth from the pain and the weight of the body he carried, feeling at least two of them chipping under the strain, his knees almost bucking under him.
"THIS CHANGES NOTHING!"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that. UNFF~ This is a momentous occasion: I know... HUFF-- more about our immediate future than you do," Shepard replied, positioning himself and Anderson in the Conduit's receptacle platform, "And it must be eating you up inside."
"WHO ARE YOU TO CLAIM ANYTHING--"
"I am Commander Shepard. Butcher of Torfan, Survivor of Mindoir, Reviver of Rachni, Hero of Tuchanka, Peacemaker of Rannoch, Destroyer of the Collectors, Saviour of the Citadel and Blackboard Monitor in 5th Grade. Game over, Player One."
He thumbed two icons simultaneously on his omni-tool, one lighting up the platform, sending out an energy field that enveloped him and Anderson's body; the other, activating the beacon right as the readout on the Quarian operators' panels reached 4:51.
Arcs of energy reached out from the liveships towards the Citadel, sizzling, frying two Reapers that got in the way almost instantly, sending them drifting onwards in the direction they were flying, before finally striking the Citadel.
Just before they did, Shepard flashed the Catalyst one final smile and said
"You really had to re-examine your priorities."
One-Shot - "Priority... Earth?"
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Aug 16, 2012.
About the Author
A Russian Econ major with a minor in graphomania. Used to write for a Russian gaming magazine a while back, apparently wasn't very good or they wouldn't've cancelled his column to replace it with one devoted to listing erotic fanservice moments in videogames and anime series. Has a penchant for long-winded distracted rants and a bizarre affection for very old videogames.