You laugh at the time that came and went
Those boast from the east sky resting
Oh, the nostalgia we retract
The now was ours but the then we can’t get back
And when the world comes crashing down
Don’t make a move, don’t make a sound
Just watch it fall, watch it come down
Feel it as it goes, does it feel good to let go
I lost myself along the way
Restless nights mixed with purposeless days
Counting forward taking steps
To a better man, the one you can’t live with
And when the world comes crashing down
Don’t make a move, don’t make a sound
Just watch it fall, watch it come down
Feel it as it goes, does it feel good to let go
Full of color, all she’s made up
Melancholy, wait, you count her scars
Colors by Coheed and Cambria
The omnitool on the desk buzzed out an alarm, shattering the silence in the dark room. It buzzed again. A third time. Finally, Garrus's mandibles twitched, he inhaled deeply, and hoisted himself to his feet. He let the omnitool continue to sound, walking past it. The small apartment was dusty and nearly empty, giving him no reason to turn on the light until he got to the bathroom.
The alarm on the omnitool shifted to club music with a powerful beat, loud enough to easily be heard over the shower. Garrus enjoyed the hot water waking up his muscles, but didn't soak long. He dressed in simple black clothes and instructed the omnitool to bring up Citadel news. He cringed as he heard Councilor Lyric's voice delivering the same speech he'd heard so many times.
It'd been three months since the memorial but footage of it was still being circulated several days a week. While there was lots of development, there were considerably less resources to report on it and broadcast it.
The room still dark, Garrus began equipping his armor. It was a set Admiral Hackett had customized for him, with very specific upgrades. It was matte black on every inch. He fit the helmet over his head and heard a salarian voice say his name, giving commentary. He turned back to the holovid on his omnitool and saw a dramatic photo somebody snapped of him staring at Shepard's picture. You could only see the back of him, looking up, but the image had been edited to fade out the rest of the crowd, emphasizing just him and Shepard's face. He stood, still as a stone as the program continued.
"...Garrus Vakarian, widely believed to have been loyal to the Commander as more than just a crewmate. At this time, he hasn't yet agreed to an interview."
The image shifted to footage of him shaking hands with officials and then chatting with Liara.
"Liara T'Soni, also one of Commander Shepard's closest associates, assures us the turian has nothing but respect for the departed."
Garrus grabbed the omnitool and turned the report off, switching it back to dance tunes that filtered through his helmet. He turned off the light in the bathroom and picked up a small bag of gear before walking through the doorway that didn't have a door.
The hallway was the only one still intact left in the deserted, decrepit building. The entryway didn't have a door either, and the soft breeze funneled through like a tunnel. As Garrus stepped out into the open space, there wasn't much to see there, either. Flattened buildings, dust, concrete, and the Citadel night cycle; the landscape of a wasteland.
He was on the outer edges of one of the Citadel prongs. Reconstruction hadn't made it this far yet, and it would still be a while before recovery forces made it this far out. The population had taken such a severe hit that civilians were encouraged to move inward, closer to the resources, and shuttles had aided the process. Expansion was occurring as fast as it could, but it was likely there may not be a need for all of the Citadel to be utilized until the economy and census numbers improved.
As far as Garrus knew, this particular area was a ghost town, the only residents being corpses not lucky enough to receive a proper burial yet. And for some, that was exactly why he was there.
He approached a skycar he'd brought with him and parked in the best flat, but discreet place he had found. He tossed the bag onto the seat next to him as he entered and was soon on his way, his helmet carefully mapping the distance. After a certain length, an alert popped up on his HUD reading "SCAN NOW". Garrus pushed the command through and waited, slowing his skycar to a stop. Eight points lit up on a radar and he settled the vehicle down close to the nearest cluster.
From within the bag, Garrus retrieved his weapons: a Carnifex pistol and Incisor sniper. He had yet to fire them on any of these missions, but whenever he wore armor he felt the need to be thoroughly prepared, and he never went anywhere without the Carnifex.
He turned off the music in his helmet, listening to his steps echoing through the hollow night. He always had mixed reactions to the silence and desolation; tonight, in a way it felt soothing, but something else felt... off.
Garrus didn't need an old Citadel reference map to know he was in what used to be a nice, cozy residential area. Their were two- and three-story townhomes crumbling over destroyed gardening bins. Yard decorations and embellishments for windows and doors were scattered throughout the road. He could almost hear the children laughing and see the families playing catch in the small yards.
He tried not to think about it and pressed on.
Eventually he left the street, walking right up to what would've been a front door. The display on his helmet changed, from a radar to a special type of filter. About ten feet ahead of him, three distorted human bodies glowed. He turned off the filter and sighed at the pile of rubble.
"Hello?!" he shouted. "Is anybody here?" Silence met him. He counted to fifteen. He called again. He didn't expect a response, and he didn't get one.
He brought up a function similar to an omnitool built in to his armor. He found the classified IDs matching the bodies and pinged them to that location, then began recording a log.
"All three together in destroyed townhome. Mild levels of debris. Probably have family members here--" he cut himself off. He knew better than to speculate or spend time making it personal. He stepped away, snapped an image of the location, and closed the file. The three dots disappeared from his radar and he turned, walking back to the skycar.
This isn't near as exciting as it used to be, he thought, trying to distract himself with his own humor. It didn't work.
It was called Operation Lost and Found. Garrus had begun the assignment the day after he returned to the Citadel. Hackett had met with him right away, supplying him with the upgraded armor that was necessary for the job. Garrus had been so eager to keep busy, desperate to start anything that felt meaningful, that he didn't mind the secrecy and isolation. And it certainly was meaningful.
The armor was linked to a database with the highest security level possible. It held the DNA of hundreds of thousands of individuals and locating tech. Garrus assumed the tech had existed before the Transcendent War, perhaps even made during the war as a precaution, anticipating the chaos of broken chains of command.
That kind of tech couldn't be trusted with many. Hackett and the Normandy Elect already knew how easy cloning would be for someone motivated enough; Cerberus had taught them that. But the Shepard clone was not Shepard, and they couldn't risk desperate individuals making attempts resulting in more confused, vengeful doppelgangers. Garrus was essentially acting as a Spectre without the official status, so as to avoid any extra attention and compromising of the tech.
The first several weeks, he'd been going off of specific DNA, targeting them long range and tracking them down. He was responsible for a large part of the chain of command within multiple structures being put back into place, as he would track down the dignitary, declare them dead and move on or pull them out of the rubble himself.
Much like he had with Shepard and Adrien Victus, he had gotten the task of telling Manna Fausna he was the new Primarch. The new salarian Councilor, Ahann Jonarth, Garrus had personally rescued. Councilor Jonarth had taken shelter in a basement research lab focused on aquatic life with his family when things went south on the Citadel. The building had collapsed, burying them alive. They had survived on the test subjects and tank water for days before Garrus and a team of high-security reinforcements dug them out.
There were over a dozen other high-ranking officials Garrus had a hand in putting in place. Some of them didn't know who he was, but many had figured it out. Between those rescues and the commendations he'd received at the memorial, he'd very quickly become one of the highest decorated and highest favored turians in the galaxy. Despite some of his connections being confidential, his own notoriety was beginning to rival Shepard's, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that.
In addition, he was once again a mysterious unknown figure to the populace. It was impossible for him to remain completely unknown among the civilians. He'd been spotted a few times, when things were urgent enough for him to be working during the day. His black armor had made quite a lasting impression and he was practically urban myth, as he had been as Archangel; but this time known as Undertaker.
The irony almost made him laugh.
Luckily, as rumors usually are, word of who he was and what he was doing had been distorted and misrepresented. Some even claimed Undertaker was actually human and there were false reports of where he had been quite frequently. Because of this, he felt fairly secure in his identity for the time being.
By the time the memorial happened, the highest-level dignitaries had been established. Garrus was then given a list of the midlevel and support positions, then family members of executives who, he guessed, paid (or donated to rebuilding efforts) quite a sum to have the privilege of being told their loved ones had died sooner than the common people.
Now most of the targets were non-specified. He guessed they were simply members of the military that needed their status declared, but he didn't get backstories, or even names, for the dead. Someone else was in charge of processing the information he reported and bringing it to those who made the decisions. Anonymity was key for all stages of the operation.
Unsurprisingly, his first question when Hackett had explained how O.L.F. was designed to be, was if they'd attempted this to find Shepard and Anderson.
"Of course we have!" Hackett had snapped. It was probably the most emotion Garrus had ever heard in the Admiral's voice. "I personally put their DNA on the longest range scanner we have and flew up and down the entire Citadel and Crucible. That's what I was doing when the first squad from Earthside showed up!"
Garrus hadn't been able to meet his eyes, feeling very much like a young turian again, scolded by his father.
"And?" he'd dared to prompt.
"And nothing. Not a trace."
"Let me run it," he'd begged.
"Don't ask me to compromise the integrity of both of us, and everyone within the project," Hackett had grumbled. "You're too close to this. We're continuing to scan for them but you cannot have your hands on it. If anything changes you'll be first to know."
Garrus turned his music back on and left the broken homes, and broken families, behind. There were thousands more dots waiting to be "verified".
While much of the work lately seemed so meaningless, he tried to remember that a declaration of death was actually very good closure for most people. These bodies may not ever be viewed by loved ones, but if even an ID card or piece of their hair could be returned, mourning and healing could happen much more easily.
In some ways, he wished he had that for Shepard. The KIA status Hackett gave may have been enough for everyone else, but Garrus knew better. He didn't know if he actually believed she was alive walking around some corner of the Citadel... but more often than not, it was as if she was watching him, watching everyone, aware of it all.
He didn't want to think of her as a goddess, omniscient and unreachable... though that was exactly how it felt sometimes. The way he talked to her sometimes could probably even be considered prayer. Maybe it was all in his head. But maybe those touches of her were somehow something more…
Garrus went back and forth between eagerly seeking comfort in the moments her presence seemed to linger, and forcing himself to think of anything but her. It felt more like an on again, off again relationship than grieving.
But how do you mourn someone who's haunting you? How do you say goodbye to someone who's not gone? If there was an answer, Garrus hadn't figured it out yet.
Several more scans and checks went just as uneventful, like so many nights had before. There was a comforting aspect to the tedium at this point.
The sunrise cycle would be starting soon and there was a good amount of secure-looking buildings nearby, so Garrus began searching for some place to set up camp for the night. Miraculously, he found an apartment building with a portion of it's garage still standing. He moved the skycar under the shelter, but left it there in the entryway. It's not like he would be blocking traffic.
He grabbed his bag and headed into the housing. He didn't trust the electricity in any of these areas, so he simply used a flashlight from his helmet to look around. It looked like a lobby area. There were some couches and tables set up for mingling, perhaps even high-stakes card games. Even through the dust and disheveled decor, he could tell it used to be a nice place.
Garrus found a stairwell and, after determining it to be sturdy enough, headed up one floor. He opened the first door he found; a two bedroom with a spacious living room. He took three steps in, caught scent, then sight, of a body, and immediately turned around and left the apartment.
But it was too late; he'd seen too much. He balked in the hallway, focusing on his breathing. Seeing bodies was a funny thing. It was easy for Garrus to predict how he would react to a freshly dead, formerly dangerous, shot (perhaps even by himself), adult of any species.
It was not easy to predict how he would react to a several months decomposed, purely innocent, crushed under a bookcase, young turian girl.
The first young body he'd encountered while out doing this, he tried to ignore and simply sleep in a different room, but struggled with it. He wanted to return and bury it. Unfortunately, he also knew that if he took the time to stop and bury every body he found, he'd never actually get his job done or get any rest.
While many had died on the Citadel in the last moments of the Transcendent War, most bodies had been collected when the survivors were. The ones that were missed were often cases where the whole family was killed and the community wasn't mindful enough to take a proper census.
If you are a goddess... are you watching over them? he wondered, going back to the stairwell. He didn't know how far the smell would reach, so he went up two floors and down a hall before trying another door. This two bedroom was empty. Once he discovered that the water was still working (and clean, according to his omnitool) he tossed his bag onto a chair that billowed up dust. He set his omnitool onto a low table and set it to emit a dim, area light. His helmet also found a home on the low table and he pulled an energy bar out of his bag, wandering over to a broken window.
He leaned his forearm against the wall, gazing down at the streets as he munched on his basic meal. The destruction was beginning to become just as familiar as the old Citadel had been. Perhaps it was time to make it back to "mainland" and be around someone who's alive again... Vega and Kaidan for poker? Liara for a day discussing the meaning of life? Joker for a day of people watching?
He finished his bar as he pondered the possibilities and watched the sunrise cycle begin. He sighed and shifted his weight back to step away from the window when something caught his eye.
Movement. More than tattered fabric or trash in the breeze. Something alive, something walking... something human. It was quite a ways in the distance, it looked male, but that was about all he could tell. Garrus tried to determine the trajectory, then stepped away from the window, turned down the light on the omnitool, put his helmet back on, then hurried back to the window.
With the additional optics he could see a source of light tucked down under a ledge that the human seemed to be headed towards. Soon the light on the Citadel would be too bright to pick it out. Garrus considered calling in to dispatch for a pick up, or shouting to get the human's attention, but something held him back.
Instead, he picked his omnitool and bag back up, pinged his current location, then jumped out the window, headed for whoever was still alive and staying in this wasteland.
Garrus had sped up, worried he would lose the trail, when he spotted two other forms moving through the debris, headed the same direction. He balked, something telling him to remain hidden until he knew more about what was happening. Something seemed off, and that feeling had never been wrong before.
He held back until two others went by, then moved in closer, but nearly got spotted by a few more. He found a nice spot of cover and peered out with his scope to try and find where they were gathering. There was some kind of small, covered amphitheater up ahead with a tunneled entrance. A human, male, stood at the doorway and greeted those who were arriving before they filed in.
Garrus put down his scope and considered calling his dispatch line. He didn't know exactly who was on the other side, but he'd called it to initiate rescues or report anything that needed urgent attention. It could also get him through to Hackett if necessary. But he didn't call. Not yet.
He sat long enough to be sure no more were coming, but the guard never left his post. Garrus stared down that guard, considering his next move, as if the answers would spill out of him. They may not have come from the guard, but they came from somewhere.
I'm going to walk right up, he thought, then laughed at the thought himself. That sounds just like my style.
He left his weapons holstered and took his time making his way through the debris, silent and graceful as a shadow. The human spotted him on the approach and immediately tensed, but didn't make any moves other than narrowing his eyes. He was middle-aged, in good shape, had a face that looked like C-Sec. He had absolutely no idea what to make of Undertaker on his doorstep. Garrus stopped as he got close as if about to have a conversation, but didn't make the first move.
"...you're not allowed in with your identity concealed," the human grumbled.
"You already know who I am." Garrus didn't miss a beat with his reply. It felt like someone had whispered the right words to him. He silently waited once more as the human's brow furrowed.
"...okay," he said with a sigh, then squared his shoulders. "What's the pass phrase?"
A pass phrase? Seriously? Then a word came out of his mouth almost at the same time it came into his mind.
The human looked him up and down again, then shrugged and stepped aside. Garrus didn't acknowledge him again as he headed into the narrow passageway. He had no idea what just happened; how did he know the right word? Was it really the right word, or did the human think he meant he didn't know and let him go by anyway?
He pushed those thoughts aside as the hallway opened up before him. It looked like it used to be a quaint little community theater or meeting hall, with a raised platform at the bottom of rows and rows of uncomfortable-looking seating. The room was lit by a chain of hanging lights strewn along the ceiling. Garrus moved further into the room but stayed on the top row.
"...so little was done to consider us during the war, and then they stopped altogether by doing too much," a man was saying from the front. It was another human male, slightly younger than the guard, sitting on the edge of the stage facing the rest of them. He had ruddy hair cut short and a long beard that reached his chest. His eyes were a bright blue that Garrus could see even from a distance. They reminded him of Shepard's.
The group was made up of the common races you'd find on the Citadel: asari, human, salarian, and turian, but Garrus spotted a couple batarians and a volus as well. There were about thirty total.
"The military was powerless when the Reapers closed and moved the Citadel," an asari agreed.
"And after, when they finally get out here, they want us to just up and leave for somewhere we can be more closely monitored?" a salarian scoffed.
"There's always an agenda. They think they can control every part of our lives," a turian scoffed.
"They're powerless, until there's an opportunity to manipulate us," a human in the audience added.
Garrus's body went rigid and he was glad the helmet masked his mandibles flaring in disgust and confusion. Had he just stumbled upon a rebellion? Luckily no one had noticed him yet, and he forced himself to keep listening.
"Commander Shepard was the only one who actually made a difference... but she did it the wrong way," the bearded human in front stated. Garrus's heart beat faster in his chest, then thundered at the accusatory tone.
"This synthesis is not natural."
"She changed the entire galaxy. What kind of person alters the fabric of our being without a thought?"
"None of us asked for these 'upgrades'."
Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd and Garrus felt sick. It was all he could do to stay still and bite back the growl threatening to escape his chest. As he fought the urge, something seemed to relax him the way a warm shower would. His shoulders dropped slightly but he still felt unease.
"My mind won't stop cycling," an asari complained, holding her head. "All it wants to do is study and research."
"I swear I could tell that someone wanted to kill me the other day," a batarian chimed in. "I killed him first, and now I’ll be in jail if C-Sec finds out, even though he started it."
"It's been very complicated," the bearded man agreed sympathetically. "We advanced before we were ready. And there's nothing wrong with that."
"Someone has to address our problems," a human replied. "They can't let Shepard do this to us, without our consent, and then just expect us to adapt."
"It's not right."
"Shepard, with all her ability to change the future and impact thousands of people, never considered what that impact really meant."
Garrus was fairly sure that if he'd overheard these statements anywhere else on the streets of the Citadel, in the light of day and not fully equipped, he'd have punched someone by now. As it was, he was more than Garrus Vakarian in this moment, he was Undertaker, and he was on duty.
Still, he was about to finally give in to his heart that wanted to defend Shepard so badly, when someone else spoke up and asked the most important question.
"Hyatt, what are we going to do about it? You said there's been progress."
The only thing worse than complaining idiots is complaining idiots with a plan...
The bearded man, Hyatt, paused as he stared at the gathered crowd, seeming to enjoy knowing something they didn't.
"There has indeed been some developments. The team studying the Cynosure believe they may be able to isolate the synthesis energy," he said quietly. The group began murmuring and a few questions rose louder.
"Could they remove it?"
"Or alter it?"
"Is the synthesis energy the same as Shepard's energy?"
Silence fell and they once again waited as Hyatt smirked.
They aren't just complaining idiots with a plan... they're complaining idiots with a plan and intel. Garrus felt like he'd swallowed a stone the size of his fist.
"All of those potentialities could be possible," he said, standing and beginning to pace back and forth. "They've found... something. No one knows exactly what Shepard did in her last moments, and there's another thing no one knows anything about..." His hands went behind his back and he faced them square again. "The Catalyst."
Garrus didn't like where this was going. He didn't like anything about it. As calm and still as he'd managed to be up to this point, he now felt anxiety growing within his chest and he didn't know how much longer he'd be able to remain a neutral observer.
"What do we know about the Catalyst?" Hyatt asked.
"It's something within the Citadel that we can't access," an asari said.
"And that's about it," the volus shrugged.
"It's believed Shepard somehow accessed this Catalyst, so she would've also been within parts of the Citadel we can't normally access, right?" Hyatt prompted. The others nodded. "Who else are the only other things that can access-- ...hello."
The entire group turned to follow Hyatt's narrowed eyes; Garrus was detected. He was treading dangerous water now, but he knew the less he gave up, the better. He shifted his weight to acknowledge the attention, but didn't yet speak.
"We seem to have attracted a rather mysterious guest," Hyatt continued. "Undertaker, right?"
Garrus lowered his head in a slow nod.
"Are you affiliated with the Council?"
"Are you a Spectre?"
He glanced at those who had spoken, but then brought his gaze back to Hyatt.
"I don't imagine we'll get many answers about that out of him," Hyatt scoffed, though still wore an arrogant smirk Garrus was beginning to hate. "Perhaps he's also here to share his opinions of the misguided decisions of those with too much power, considering he spends his time cleaning up after them."
The invitation to do something shook off his anxiety and Garrus took the bait.
"How dare you judge that which you can't begin to understand," he growled.
"We may understand far more than you think," Hyatt retorted, not giving an inch.
"You will never understand her."
Garrus crossed the line. He'd just revealed too much and he knew it, but he didn't know why it crossed a line with Hyatt. The human reached back and pulled out a pistol that was tucked in his pants and pointed it at Garrus. He fired three times, causing the audience to gasp and shift away, but Garrus didn't move. The first bullet flickered off his shields near his shoulder and the other two missed.
"You're just as mortal as the rest of us!" Hyatt snarled.
"But I'm a much better shot."
Garrus grasped his pistol and the crowd panicked, crouching to the ground even though there was really no cover to hide behind. To his credit, Hyatt didn't flinch, not even when Garrus brought the pistol up. He fired once, aiming at a generator box tucked on the back of the stage that was powering the lights. It went dark and he turned for the hallway. There he met the guard, running in to investigate the gunshots, pistol in hand. Garrus anticipated him and quickly disarmed him, dropping the clip from the gun and tossing it down the rows of seating as he darted through the tunnel, on his way out.
No one followed him, at least not that he could tell. He kept a brisk pace the whole way back to the skycar, glad he'd put his bag inside it on his way out. It definitely wasn't a good idea to stick around.
He rounded a corner near the building he'd parked in and balked, readying his pistol as he spotted movement up ahead. He exhaled, panting, and slowly lowered his pistol again. Two Keepers were up ahead, carefully carrying the body of the small turian girl he'd seen in the apartment before. The government had made good efforts in respecting the bodies of the dead, but Garrus frequently saw the Keepers taking care of the ones they missed. He didn't know what eventually became of them and at this time, didn't care to find out.
Tearing his gaze away, he pressed on. Once he reached the skycar, he took to the sky and headed back to the New Presidium.