Theseus

BY MISFIRE ANON

Shepard is beginning to see the appeal of using a large star to light a room—where you can see the entire top half of a blue giant, and you need highly expensive windowpanes just to block out the part of the EM spectrum that’s hazardous to your health. It’s like having a waterfall in your garden, or piranhas in your fish tank. Unnecessary, but certainly helps with the mood. The Illusive Man’s fancy backdrop may or may not be a fake—in all likelihood, it is, but this is real. Hers is real. She grins, and then realises she has no reason to.

She turns her back to the star and leans casually against the window. It looks as if she can fall through, but she doesn’t. That wouldn’t be very kind to Grunt, the young krogan she’d started to like. Heck, it wouldn’t be kind to any of her crew. But she had gone so far as to invite Grunt up to her cabin and show him her model ships, throwing in tales of great space battles for good measure. He had liked it, although there was apparently too much talking involved. She hopes she can make up for that today. He’s waiting just outside the soundproof doors.

It’s strange how her mothering instincts were evoked by a tank-bred krogan. Strangeness in this galaxy no longer surprises her.

“Oh yes, I’m sorry.” She’s no good at this interrogation business. Spacing out in the middle of things, for one. “We’re done here. Frankly, I’m no fan of torture—you and I both know that getting reliable information when someone’s in pain is next to impossible.”

Saren merely blinks at her, as if urging her to get to the point.

“There are such devices in this chair—or so I’m told—but I don’t want to fry any more of your…” she waves her hands in the air, searching for the term. “Implants. Yes. Now, since you refuse to tell me how Sovereign—“

“It didn’t.” Another strange occurrence. His voice is barely a whisper, thanks to the combined effects of cryogenics and electrical damage, yet it overcomes hers easily. Maybe because it is so quiet. Maybe because the room is so empty. Maybe because Shepard is worse at this than she thought. Better not be that last one.

“I still don’t believe you.”

“You wouldn’t believe me. You have not met Sovereign, and faced what it represented.”

“I spoke with it on Virmire. It lied to—“

“You saw a hologram. Nothing more.” He pauses to breathe. Just to breathe. The restraint around his neck probably isn’t helping things, but she doubts he can keep his head up without it. “You humans are as idiotic as ever. It didn’t force me to do anything, Shepard.”

“That doesn’t corroborate with my data. I’ve done a little digging myself. It uses a mixture of EM fields and plain noise.” She starts to pace. “But I need qualitative observations, and you happen to be just about the only sane one left. My offer still stands, Saren.”

Stranger still is how she had managed to get him to talk in the first place. She threatened radiation exposure. He said nothing. She threatened to hand him over to the Council. He said nothing. She threatened death. He caved. She thought about it a little more—his distrust of humans, and all that baggage—and came to the conclusion that death was what he wanted. She offered it up front. He agreed.

What a pity, after all the effort to keep him alive. What a waste of resources.

“I wanted to do it.”

She walks over to him, grabbing a flask of water on the way. It is half empty. She tips it into his mouth. About a third of the remainder actually makes it in; the rest flows over his mandibles and soaks the black head cloth. “There. Now, what did you want to do?”

“I wanted to help Sovereign. It may have suggested it to me, but I agreed. There are some things—“ he coughs, “—that are unimaginable to the uninitiated. There are some risks that should never be taken.”

“So, basically, it scared you.”

“Again, you demonstrate remarkable ignorance. Sovereign showed me the truth. Part of which foretells the failure of your plan. You think it unique; it is not. The cycle has continued for longer—“

She cuffs him across the face. Not too harshly, just to remind him of the person in charge. “I already talked to the Reaper. I don’t need a repeat.”

“I see.” His head is still twisted sideways, and for a moment she wonders if she was too rough anyway. But he can speak. Good enough. “You want me to say that I can think clearly, now that Sovereign’s gone. You want to believe that one can recover from…indoctrination. Tell me, who is it? Which of your loved ones succumbed?”

“None of your business.” She hisses.

“Shepard.” He manages to look at her again, with great effort. “I can pretend, afterwards, that it was a trick meant for Sovereign, that I just did it to make the voices stop, that I didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true, and I have no reason to lie. You mean it. You mean everything you say, everything you do. And there is no regret to be had.”

“You could have pretended.” She replies after a thoughtful pause. “Why didn’t you?”

“I want your own delusions to be your downfall. Not some morsel of misinformation.”

Damn that smug smile. “So that’s it? No threats? No warnings from your Reaper masters?”

“None.” His gaze leaves her face and drifts to the pistol.

“That’s it?” She repeats. “No trying to redeem yourself? Thanking me? I thought you had better manners than that.” The pistol feels heavier under his gaze, somehow. She unclips it and sets it on a nearby table, next to the empty bottle.

“Unnecessary.”

She crosses her arms. Armour weighs quite a bit, and doing so is a relief to her shoulders. Outside, the star spins slowly. Her naked eye can’t really distinguish its ponderous movement, but the thought is oddly comforting. “Binary Helix went under two years ago. Do you even know how long you’ve been sleeping?”

Silence from the chair.

“It’s been your credits keeping you alive, in the end. To keep the Rachni business hushed up, they handed over your shares to Doctor T’Soni and yours truly under the table. We sold, collected a few favours from Synthetic Insights, and then leaked the story.” She smirks. “Serves the bastards right.”

And he still says nothing. Reaching the window, she places her palm flat against it, fingers spread. When she pulls away, a faint condensation outline of her hand remains, but it quickly disappears. Need to look into the insulation on that glove later. “Do you know where we are, Saren? I had this place fitted just for you, you know. Consider yourself lucky.”

A piece of flat, somewhat reflective debris drifts past.

“Nith.”

“Correct.”

“And I thought you could go no lower, Shepard.” It isn’t meant to sting. Too monotone. “What’s your point?”

She turns around, takes off her Kuwashii visor, and sets it beside the pistol. The small table now looks cramped. “Our predecessors left us an awe-inspiring legacy, don’t you think?” She gestures to the barely-visible ring of ruins. Thousands of years old, and still tenaciously orbiting the star. “Let’s leave one too.”

Saren looks downwards. No surprise, since her hand is resting on the cold metal ring encircling his organic wrist. It must be disconcerting to know that she is so close, yet be unable to see the contact. “It is too late for me. You know this.”

“Yes, I know.” She touches his shoulder. He stiffens. “Let me tell you something. When all this is done, I’ll have a monument built in your honour. The Council won’t make a fuss; I’ll make sure of that, one way or another. When this war is over. When the Reapers are nothing but ruins like these…”

“I don’t know what drugs you’ve—“

“Look at me. Look at me, you turian bastard. All I want—all I want is to have people remember you as a Spectre, not as this.” She gestures to his ravaged face. “Because you so kindly fessed up the coordinates to your outpost near the Veil, and also, also because you deserve better than what Sovereign dealt you.

This is my due to you. This is from one Spectre to another. Don’t you have any pride left? Is that so hard to understand?”

He sneers at her, but his voice carries no emotion. “I have left it all behind, lest you craved the pleasure to be had in destroying it.”

That’s it. Dead end. He doesn’t close his eyes, but rather stares straight ahead, past the glass, past the blue giant, the artificial light from his pupils flickering once in a while.

Searching for the abodes of Sovereign’s kin.

She activates her radio. Grunt, I’ve a present for you. You know how you’ve always wanted to snap a turian, but Garrus is off-limits? Yeah. Well, I have here a suitable replacement. Slightly used, though I think you’d like—

Yet she shuts it off without saying anything. Damn it. No point in this. Any of this. Sure, Grunt might be happier for a time, but it won’t reverse any damage, and it won’t be of any help to—

Damn it, if only it could help—

Shepard picks up her pistol, examining the heat sink. It’s usually in place, but for one memorable occasion on Omega, it had been jarred out of alignment. It was not a pleasant experience. Behind her, his restraints unlock by themselves. She can see him touching his neck, gingerly, from the corner of her eye.

“C’mon. Get up.” She replies to the unspoken question. The loading mechanism slides home with a dull, satisfying click. “Die standing.”

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