It's the start of us, waking up, come on
Are you ready? I'll be ready
I don't want control, I want to let go
Are you ready? I'll be ready
'Cause now it's time to let them know
We are ready, what about us?
What about us?
What about all the times you said you had the answers?
What about us?
What about all the broken happy ever afters?
Oh, what about us?
What about all the plans that ended in disaster?
Oh, what about love? What about trust?
What about us?
What About Us by Gavin Mikhail & The Cameron Collective
A millisecond after the Normandy shut it's hangar bay door and thrust itself out of the hot zone, Garrus broke. He knew he'd made the most asinine decision of his life. He would've died on that battlefield with less regret than he was feeling then, he was sure.
The tumult of the battlefield was gone within seconds, replaced by sharp, anguished murmurs of auxiliary crewmembers, Garrus's own gasping breath, and the groaning of Vega beside him, sitting on the floor where they both had collapsed. It was the sounds of defeat, the anthem of Shepard's last stand that none of them would witness.
Garrus launched himself to his feet, adrenaline and rage and shame fueling his injured and bleeding body into his own last stand. He slammed the bay door with his hands, willing it to open so he could be at Shepard's side again, despite the fact that they were already well on their way out of Earth's atmosphere.
Dr. Chakwas rushed into the hangar with medical supplies, selfishly yearning to see Shepard there, eyes wide as she surveyed the room. Her face fell and she joined the collective despair as she watched Garrus wage war with reality. Vega slowly heaved himself to his feet and reached for Garrus's shoulder, his expression pained. The turian struck his hand away and Vega made a more forceful attempt. Garrus growled viciously and turned, lunging forward, but he found his hands had no grip, his legs no strength, and the room was going dark.
Deep blue blood was draining from his right shoulder and left flank. Vega caught him on his way down and Chakwas was nearby immediately, kneeling over Garrus's torso. His body betrayed him and his eyes slowly closed as he realized with bitterness that Shepard had made the only call she could to save his life.
Like an ethereal torrent, the energy of synthesis crashed through the Normandy. The ship groaned and protested against it's pressure, fighting to stay stable. In the med bay, Chakwas froze, staring at her own gloved hands in confusion and wonder. Vega was on the bed in front of her, unconscious, and as she looked him over it was as if she suddenly comprehended far more about him and his medical condition than she had before. She watched his features soften in his sleep.
Then she felt it.
Garrus had spoken what-- or rather, who-- she was feeling. He was shifting on his own medical table and Chakwas turned to face him, steadying his shoulder as he tried to sit up.
"She's... here?" he grumbled, blinking away his grogginess.
"It only feels that way," Chakwas replied gently. Garrus's mandibles flared as he also looked at his own hands and then around the room. He reached up and removed his visor, blinked, then put it back on.
"What is this...?" he asked.
"I don't know. It must be what she's done to--"
"Hold on, hold on, brace for impact!" Joker's voice over the intercom interrupted them, followed by EDI's.
"I don't know what's happening... but we'll make it."
The Normandy pitched and Garrus and Chakwas braced against the bed and each other as the ship landed somewhere it was never supposed to.
10 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds.
EDI and Liara were keeping time since "the event" as though B.C. had just changed to A.D.
Everyone knew something had changed and the best minds were already working to label it. Most in the galaxy were still adjusting to it. Defining it would take far more time.
EDI was one of the first to successfully reestablish a communication line cross-system. She had reached Liara who was still on Earth, at what was beginning to be referred to as London's Crux. EDI's next target was reaching Admiral Hackett, if he'd survived, or his successor if he had not.
A lot was unknown and neither the Normandy party nor Earthside had much to share with the other. EDI, Liara, and Chakwas were all discussing the new state of being, simply from theoretical and personal perspectives. The most obvious change felt simply like thinking faster. Understanding and new ideas came as quickly as looking it up in the Shadow Broker network (even though Liara didn't currently have access to that resource). It was like a mental database. Not perfect, and not complete, but more than it was.
Garrus had settled in the comm room to listen and not moved for hours, save for the wringing of his hands. He stared at the floor in front of him, saying nothing, absorbing everything. Learning about what happened was the closest he could get to Shepard, or even news of her. Joker was present also, his arm over EDI's shoulder, but was spending more time marveling at the changes than analyzing them.
A new voice entered the conversation via Liara's side. Various other personnel had been coming and going, giving her pieces of the puzzle as she intercepted messengers.
"...really? That's... good to hear." The zest with which Liara had been discussing the synthesis fell away like a fire dying in the wind.
"We've got visual on the Citadel again, but no other connection yet," Liara relayed. Garrus's mandibles twitched but he didn't look up. She continued, "It's been badly damaged. The conduit is still live, but we don't know if it goes anywhere sustainable, and it will be some time before tests are run... There's likely millions more casualties there."
"If Shepard's there, she'll find a way," Chakwas murmured. Garrus's mandibles flared then, and his breathing became unsteady for a moment.
"You all felt her, too, didn't you?" EDI asked, her tone solemn.
"It felt like she walked into the room to say hello, like she always did on the Normandy," Liara replied, her voice barely audible through the less-than-ideal signal.
"It still feels like she's here. Everywhere," Joker commented.
"You're talking like she's dead," Garrus snapped.
He scoffed at the pity in Liara's voice, still not meeting anyone's eyes.
"We don't know anything. Do I think she's alive...? She may as well be," he said roughly. There was a long pause.
"Wherever she is... she's given us an incredible gift," Chakwas remarked with reverence.
"I don't want it at the expense of her life," the turian huffed.
"She didn't give her life to give us an advanced state; she gave her life to stop the war," EDI corrected.
"That's right," Liara confirmed. "Fighting and ending the war was part of her duty, and her expertise. No one expected it to happen this way, but it did."
"I don't think I even really understand what Shepard's "gift" was..." Joker began, shrugging before a wide grin spread across his face. "...but I have a feeling things are going to be very different. And better. Even though she's gone, I just feel excited."
"And grateful," Chakwas added. "She was probably the only one who could do such a thing for us."
"Now you're talking like she's a deity," Garrus pointed out with a terse laugh.
A small smile touched EDI's face, something that was happening more often than before.
"If this is the start of an entirely new universe... she may as well be."
38 hours, 24 minutes, 49 seconds.
The relays were still down, as were most of the communication lines, but the leaders of the forces on London felt sending scouts up to the Citadel was feasible enough to be a priority. It's position over Earth made it an opportune time for humans to play a part in restoring it and further their prominence in intergalactic dealings.
For once, however, politics and positioning were only a small part of the motivations. The Citadel represented the past and the future to every species. There was sentimental significance and more than a bit of pride backing the idea of reinstating it to what it once was, and more, as their new abilities inevitably became rapid advancements in civilization.
Some very basic probes had been sent first. The degrees of destruction spanning the massive station were in the process of being carefully mapped. Preliminary reports showed that many of the large buildings had been leveled, with much more than that hollowed out, only skeletal supports remaining. There was barely any remnant of smaller markets and residential areas.
Power appeared to be working in about 30% of the Citadel, with spotty functionality. From a distance it appeared two of the arms of the Citadel had severe structural integrity issues, to the point where some feared they would break off entirely. Activity from residents had been confirmed, with basic repair and resources being organized as efficiently as possible.
But the cavalry had arrived; at least a small forward party of them. The shuttles were flying in mostly blind, the pilot's nerves causing them to be extra cautious. Visibility wasn't helping as air quality was poor and the rubble made the landscape so unrecognizable it may as well have been an unknown planet.
There were three large caravans, carrying 15-20 warm bodies each. A third of them were engineering specialists, the rest war-torn but ambitious soldiers. Each of them were armed, but every weapon was holstered, for now. No one expected hostiles, but old habits were still in play.
Liara, Wrex, and Kaidan had easily secured positions on the expedition. While most of the troops were Alliance, a couple high-ranking turian and asari personnel were also invited as a show of camaraderie. The three Normandy alumni were near the front of the group, and the Alliance troops recognized them for who they were. Shepard's crew was known for many things, and their exceptional bond was one of them. It was fairly obvious they were using a private comm channel in addition to the one they shared with the troops, but what wasn't obvious was that the Normandy herself was patched in.
The feed from Wrex's armor was being broadcast ship wide. Engineering crews were working hard to repair the Normandy's structures and listening to the audio intently, knowing each operation was making history. Joker and EDI were sitting comfortably in the comm room, thrilled to have their eyes on the front lines. Vega paced stiffly around the table and Garrus stood rigid with his attention glued to the feed, even though for the moment it simply showed the inside of the shuttle door.
"If this doesn't get the krogan a seat on the Council, nothing will," Joker said with a smirk.
"We're getting it no matter what it takes," Wrex grunted back.
"Don't encourage him to think of other tactics," Kaidan pleaded. Wrex chuckled.
"Don't worry, I've got my priorities straight. Let's sort this place out."
The shuttles landed at one of the first docks they had deemed suitable, close to the central area of the Presidium. The doors opened and Wrex was the first one out into the haze.
"Reclamation begins now, folks," he grumbled, surveying the scene. The docks being usable looked like a miracle compared to the debris at their feet. Concrete, dust, metal, rubble, and even bodies when you looked close enough, obscured all pathways. Somehow the Citadel was sustaining oxygen, gravity, and atmo here, but past that there were no guarantees. It looked like a night with a full moon, the visibility dark and dusty but with enough silver to light the way.
As if the station didn't look unrecognizable enough, above them loomed the Crucible. It's shape was intact, in fact most of it was in better shape than the Citadel, but it was never meant to be pretty. The Crucible, for so long, had been a symbol of desperation, hope, and even retaliation. They didn't know what it would do before they utilized it, and in many ways, they still didn't know what it had done. The Alliance crew looked at it proudly, but to Shepard's crew, it may as well be her unofficial gravestone.
"Reminds me of Tuchanka. Nothing seems to be where it's supposed to," Wrex commented.
"Goddess," Liara said, gazing at the Crucible with wonder.
"That's what ended the war?" Kaidan asked with a grimace, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Shepard ended the war. That's an eyesore," Wrex corrected him.
"Man... where do you even start?" Joker asked, struggling to believe what he was seeing was even the Citadel. He shuddered as he caught sight of a salarian body not far from Wrex, crushed by a fallen support beam.
"You start where you are," Vega chimed in. "No better place than there."
"I'm guessing the Admirals will have some more specific guidance for us," Liara pointed out.
Two Admirals who stepped up in Anderson's absence had accompanied the troops to the Citadel. Ellorie Solloway was stepping out of the second shuttle now, her dark eyes and strong features all business. Her black hair was tucked up neatly into a bun, out of the way of a wide visor that was certainly feeding her as many intel updates as they had.
"Hey Garrus, why don't you have a visor that big?" Joker said with a smirk.
"Zinger from the peanut gallery," Vega laughed dryly. Garrus only grunted in reply.
Behind Solloway was Risto Keogh, and he was the youngest Admiral in Alliance history. His optimistic expression betrayed him the most, brightly beaming from his freckled face and blue eyes. He also had a large visor on, but it appeared to be assessing the mechanical functionality of the structures around him.
The group made their way to form one large body, but didn't get very far before a few radios began buzzing.
"We're picking up some local chatter," Solloway said. "Admiral Keogh, can your guys clear this up?"
"On it," he replied, as he and a few engineers behind him pulled up their omnitools.
"I don't think you'll need to... we've got company," Kaidan pointed out.
All eyes turned to observe a fourth shuttle, smaller, making it's way towards their docks. Wrex pulled out his assault rifle, holding it casually, but ready. Kaidan's hand went to his.
"They're not hostile," Liara told them.
"How do you know?" Admiral Solloway asked, making her way forward, also clutching a pistol.
"You mean you don't?" Liara retorted, her brow furrowed.
The Admiral paused, watching the shuttle settle into the only safe remaining space as delicately as possible. Kaidan's hand fell away from his weapon, looking confused.
"What... is that? How do I know that whoever is in there is happy to see us?" he asked.
"Another effect of the synthesis?" Garrus asked, turning to look at EDI.
"It's possible," the AI agreed with a nod.
"Fascinating," Liara breathed. "There's not only greater mental capacities, but emotional as well. This should be studied--"
"Save your theories and research for the lab, Liara," Wrex said. "This is a boots-on-the-ground mission."
"Perhaps krogan are immune? Can't you feel the calmness?" she teased.
"I just like to hold my gun," he shrugged. "When's the last time you heard a krogan talk about it's feelings anyway?"
"Now I know why you Normandy squad have your private channel. Enough with the chatter," Solloway scolded, narrowing her eyes at each of them.
"She's just jealous," Joker taunted, but those on the Citadel fell silent as three figures stepped out of the unknown shuttle. One of them became more and more familiar as they approached.
"I was wondering when someone Earthside would make it here."
Other than a slight limp and his right arm in a sling, Admiral Hackett looked as well as ever.
"Oo-rah! That crafty old dog made it!" Vega cheered from the Normandy.
"I won't tell him you called him that," Kaidan snickered, then snapped into a salute with the rest of the Alliance troops.
"As you were," Hackett nodded. "Rabbit, help Keogh with the new comm frequencies," he added, addressing one of the two assistants with him, a petite, older woman with white hair pulled back into a bun. She immediately approached Keogh and began tweaking his omnitool with a cheery smile.
"Ask him what's being done to determine Shepard's status," Garrus said flatly. Kaidan and Liara shifted uncomfortably but remained silent.
"Well... plenty of sitrep to go around, eh?" Solloway said, offering her hand in greeting to Hackett. "I don't believe we've formally met. I'm Admiral Solloway."
"Forgive me, my right hand is dead, Admiral," Hackett replied, politely dismissing her handshake.
"Ask him about Shepard, or Anderson, or wherever they might have activated the Catalyst," Garrus hissed, but again went ignored.
"Oh, er, I'm sorry to hear that," Solloway replied.
"Don't be. Between Rabbit and Halcomb I have two right hands now," he said. The other man behind him, who appeared rather young, gave a small, confirming shrug.
"Have they looked for the bodies?" Garrus persisted.
"Hackett knows what he's doing," Vega said, his tone just as much a growl as the turian's.
"Where can we be of most service, sir?" Kaidan asked, stepping forward, his tone emphasizing "service". Garrus scoffed and turned away from the screen.
"We're back to the basics," Hackett grunted. "Communication lines are improving; we've untangled some upgraded frequencies that Rabbit will get you up to speed with. Living conditions are miserable in most areas here. Dead and wounded are still being pulled out of the rubble. Structural integrity and reliable water and energy would make a world of difference right now. The Keepers seem to be working on it, but they're slow. Believe it or not, some husks have been spotted helping them."
"The Citadel is certainly large enough to warrant all hands on deck," Liara mumbled, trying to ignore the ripple of disquiet that made its way through the gathered troops. Some Reaper forces had been hanging around the Crux, too. They didn't communicate, but appeared capable of greater intelligence than animals. They were like dogs in that they were ready and willing to be supportive to a cause bigger than them, and yet as physically and technically capable as geth. For the most part they'd been keeping their distance, but some had noticed them beginning to construct crude shelters and waterways outside of the main Alliance camps.
Hackett's eyes looked over Liara, Kaidan, and Wrex.
"Halcomb, get Solloway and Keogh up to speed and delegate roles appropriately. I'll be a minute." He gestured to the Normandy crew. "You three, with me."
The four of them stepped away from the main crowd and Garrus once again was watching intently.
"Off the record," Hackett said, switching off his comms and the others did the same, but left the line to the Normandy open.
"I don't have any answers regarding Shepard or what led up to the event," he said right away. "But I have some ideas. Has the Normandy AI made contact with you yet?"
"She's listening, sir," Kaidan admitted. Hackett raised a brow.
"And Joker, then?"
Joker gave a casual salute from his seat in the comm room as Liara got Hackett caught up with who all was listening in.
"Asked for by name," Vega sneered. "Aren't you special."
"I don't call him a crusty old dog," Joker replied.
"I said crafty, not crusty! It's a compliment!"
"I have plans for any of the Normandy crew that would like a formal assignment," Hackett continued. "It's not in place yet, but it's high priority. I'd like the ship back here as soon as possible."
"The Normandy requires some repairs, but it's the relays that will be most difficult to travel without," Liara pointed out.
"Indeed." Hackett paused and gave a heavy sigh, looking down. "Assuming we get communication feeds back in a timely manner and can locate enough Citadel and Alliance officials, I'd like to hold a memorial service for the civilian and military casualties of the Reaper War within 30 days of the synthesis."
"Including Shepard?" Liara and Garrus asked at once.
"Excepting she comes waltzing out of the rubble as she has before... yes," he replied, his tone solemn.
"Tell him we'll retire the Normandy," Joker interjected suddenly. "It can be its own memorial."
"Is that your decision to make?" EDI asked, her tone simply curious.
"It's just as much mine as anyone else's here, unless someone else is going to fly it," Joker said firmly. "We can have formal objections later."
"I just need to get back there," Garrus said quietly.
"We'd like the Normandy to be present for the memorial," Liara relayed to Hackett.
"Somehing's happening," Wrex suddenly announced, his eyes skyward.
"What? What is it?" Garrus asked.
All talking on the Citadel had ceased as the group slowly scanned the glowing outline of the Citadel around them. Every one of them could feel it: something ancient and dauntless. Then they could hear it, and those on the Normandy could too. A deep, mechanical droning was coming from above and all around them.
"It's the Reapers," Hackett confirmed, his demeanor tense and unsure. Their outlines were visible now through the haze as several of them floated around and within the Citadel, and more were coming.
"What are they doing?" Kaidan asked in a whisper.
"They don't... feel threatening," Wrex muttered.
"Ready to talk about your feelings now, Wrex?" Liara snickered and he just grunted. Rabbit suddenly turned and darted towards Hackett.
"Sir, I've just received word that the Local Cluster relay appears to be back online," she reported.
"Well, that's... quite something," Hackett mused, then looked back at the Normandy squad. "Looks like we may see the Normandy again sooner than we all thought."