Wednesday, June 22, 2011


(I realized a while ago (months, actually,) that I haven't been writing practically anything, which is particularly bizarre considering my love of writing in general, and the fact that I have been 'in the process' of writing a novel since high school. I love playing the Mass Effect video game series, so I decided to write a little scene based on a particular relationship portrayed in the game. 
**Be aware, the story contains some Mass Effect spoilers, and while those who have not played the games may not get some of the references, I did my best to make it understandable even for those who have not played the games.
Note: There are some swear words in here.
Here 'tis. Enjoy, and review it for me if ya like. :-> )

The bulkhead’s solid strength was a comfort at her back. Her well cared-for uniform served to put her mind at ease, as did her practiced commanding persona; both served as a sort of  familiar battle armor. Constant, calming facts of life, as easy as breathing, but they couldn’t quite meld with with the guttural boiling of her current dark mindscape.
“ ‘How am I’ ?” She echoed him, subdued wryness tinging her words with grey. She was sitting on her haunches against the office’s taupe wall, hands lightly clasped, head tilted up toward the cold illumination of the ceiling’s singular light fixture. Her muscles were oddly tense for the seeming casualness of her crouched position, her face oddly blank.
“Was that a rhetorical question?” She continued, opening her hazel green eyes to stare calmly at the tall man, a fellow marine, who was standing before her. He fidgeted just slightly under her steady gaze, an odd movement coming from one whose rank insignia marked him as a commander, when she was only a lieutenant-commander. Both bore the delta-shaped badge of N-7 special ops training on their dress blues. Nevertheless, he seemed to consider his words very carefully before responding.
“No. No it wasn’t. I hadn’t heard from you since–” His breath caught softly, then he continued in a quieter voice. “...since I sent you that letter. You never responded.”
She stood, folding her arms as she did so, a glint of animosity entering her formerly emotionless expression.
“No. I didn’t.” She replied flatly. “I was a little preoccupied at the time.”
The man flinched slightly as though he'd been slapped. He focused his angry brown eyes on the far wall, and when he looked back to her, he wore an expression that was as intentionally blank as hers. “You could have died.”
“Yes, well, I knew it was a suicide mission from the beginning.” She retorted. “Besides, I already died once. I figured the second time around wouldn’t be so bad.” Her counterpart’s jaw was clenched tight now, and as he spoke, his voice grated.
“Two years you’ve been gone." He ground out between gritted teeth. "Two years I’ve mourned, and you’ve been working for those terrorists this whole time. You betrayed the Alliance, you betrayed everything we believed in. They murdered Admiral Kahoku, they experimented on people, and on Akuze–” He had to stop, his anger flaring in the form of a sharp pain just behind his eyes. He briefly pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, then continued in a growl.
“All Cerberus has done, all the bigotry, sedition, and terrorism, and you side with them because...what?  They foot the bill and don’t ask too many questions?”
He might’ve continued, but suddenly the left side of his face burned, then the sound of her slap reached his ears. His shock was a metallic tang in his mouth, the pain in his cheek and neck bright and throbbing.
Her expression was violent and hurt, the muscles in her jaw standing out in sharp relief. They stared hard at each other, studied features once so familiar to them. To each, the others’ face represented both their most treasured and most haunted memories.
“You’ve never given me the chance to explain. If you really want to talk, then let’s talk.” She took a deep breath, then continued in a low hiss.
“But if all you want is to scream at me to make yourself feel better, you can go fuck yourself, cuz I won’t just sit here and take it.”
A silence settled over them, palpable and electric. Kaidan stared through her, his eyes on hers but not really seeing her as he fought mightily against all the cruel things he wanted to say. As he stared, she simply met his gaze and waited, wearing a very particular implacable expression. He'd seen it before when he'd served under her–usually she directed it at people she didn't particularly care for in tense political situations.
The person who it caused it the most was Ambassador Udina, a slug of a politician with zero tact or grace. It hurt Kaidan more than he’d ever admit to find that look leveled in his direction. Once, he’d admired her ability to cow others with the simple force of her personality, but now it left him with a sour taste.
She sensed his reaction, felt him pulling back from her and into the protective armor of his anger. The fire in her eyes died down, the bright light of her spirit dulling into glassy hopelessness. She dropped her gaze, her ramrod posture slumping. She gave up.
Something buried deep in Kaidan flared distressingly, and he found himself greatly disturbed by her uncharacteristic surrender. His anger died down. He ran his fingers through his hair, perplexed by an uncomfortable emotion somewhere between nauseous anxiousness and fearful hope.
“I...don’t know what to believe. You died, or you disappeared, and then you came back, working for the enemy. I–we had something, and then you...were gone, and...” Frustrated, he raked his fingers through his hair again, annoying himself with his nervous habit.
“Look." He said, "You were working for wanted terrorists.”
She was quiet for a short time, then murmured, “with.”
“What?” He asked.
“With. Not for. I never worked for Cerberus. But I sure as hell never had a choice about working with them.”
Kaidan felt his ire rising slowly from it’s manageable simmer.
“I don’t see much of a difference.” He said carefully, trying his hardest to keep a firm grip on his emotions.
“Do you want to hear what I have to say, or not?” She asked him tiredly, leaning back against the wall. Kaidan wasn't sure he did want to listen. But a tiny voice in the back of his head, the one that had lead him to first admit his love for her, so long ago, spoke softly to him. He nodded.
“Did you know that Joker has never mentioned anything about our days on the SR1 except to refer to the whole Saren chase as ‘the good old days’?” She remarked tonelessly.
“When the Normandy was being destroyed, I knew he'd be too stubborn to abandon ship. I was so pissed at him I didn’t remember to be gentle as I lifted his sorry crippled ass right out of the pilot seat. Probably fractured his arm.”
She had, Kaidan recalled numbly. Kaidan had treated Joker himself in an effort to ignore the massive hole through his chest made by the confirmation of her death. He could only stare at her as she continued to speak.
“I got him into the escape pod right before an explosion threw me back. I barely had the presence of mind to hit the emergency eject.” She did not vary her tone, pitch, or cadence, even speaking of things that turned his stomach. 
“I hit a bulkhead hard, then drifted through the debris of the ship, wondering how long I’d have to wait for pick-up when I realized I couldn't breathe. Hardsuit breach. I couldn't find the leak and I. I just faded." She was expressionless still, but paused for a moment to clear her throat. A flash of the nightmarish memory haunted her pale face for just an instant before she went on.
"When I woke up again, I was lying in a besieged medical facility, confused as all hell and sore as day two of boot camp. Someone was yelling at me over the PA system to get armored up and fight my way out.” She snorted, a grim and humorless smirk on her lips.
"I won’t bore you with the details. Long story short, Cerberus showed me proof of the Reapers' activity and informed me that I had no choice but to work with them. As soon as I had control of the SR2, which I was given to command, I went to the Council for support. They immediately considered having me tried for treason until Anderson intervened. They said that since I was working with Cerberus I was banned from Council space, and their version of lending me their support was by not arresting me for my association with Cerberus.” She glared briefly at the wall to express her irritation, clenching her jaw.
“So that channel was closed. I'd get no help from the Council. I asked Anderson where you were, but he wouldn’t tell me anything, again, because of Cerberus. I had no choice but to work with them, since they were the only ones willing to investigate the movements of the Reapers, or even admit that they exist.
"So I built my ground team one by one. Eventually, the Illusive Man sent us into that trap he’d sprung with you in it. You should know all about that. Unless you have more to add? I don’t think the whole ‘betrayer’ bit is quite old enough yet. You could probably stand to mention that a couple more times before I’d decide to knock you on your ass. Sir.”
She couldn’t help herself, she put in that last bitter word because, if she hadn’t died, by this point in time they could easily have been together in reality, without having to sneak around the regs. Kaidan didn’t miss her meaning, and immediately exploded.
“You had two years to get in contact with me. Two years you let me think you were dead. And you were just-” He started, his voice harsh with emotion, and she put her nose right in his face, practically screaming.
“What part of ‘I was clinically dead’ don’t you get?! I suffocated. I was exposed to vacuum. I hit atmo. Eventually I hit the surface of Alchera. The only thing that kept me from turning into nothing more than a red smear on the surface was my hardsuit! It took Cerberus two years to fix me. My eyes are fake. My bones had to be rebuilt from splinters. My organs were cloned–”
Abruptly it hit him that he knew she was telling the truth. Kaidan rocked back on his heels, turned away from her. She cut off, breathing hard. When she continued, her voice was soft and slightly hoarse.
“I died on that meaningless geth-hunting mission when I should’ve been hunting down ways to defeat the Reapers. And I was brought back to life because the galaxy that didn’t waste one minute before slandering my memory just couldn’t let me rest in peace.”
He didn’t turn back to look at her, just pressed his face into his hands, struggling to come to terms with what he was hearing. Kaidan didn’t see it, but one of her hands lifted halfway from her side, reaching for him, before she stopped herself. Instead, the hand slid over her dark brown hair to smooth the regulation bun on the back of her head.
“I did the impossible. All of my crew survived that so-called suicide mission, and later I went on to stop the Reapers from returning early. Three hundred thousand Batarians died because an Indoctrinated scientist prevented me from sending out an evacuation order." She shook her head, continuing in a rasp.
"Because of that one fanatical victim, I’m going on trial when what I did in that system saved the whole galaxy. There were no other options, and there’s no other scapegoat. And still, the whole universe is pretending that there’s no such thing as Reapers, that they’re not on their way to destroy us even now.”
She fell silent, and the room was filled with depressing, determined rumination. Kaidan turned slowly and studied her face, and found it to be locked in that impassive, implacable Commander Shepard mask.
“So, how am I?” Asked Jane Shepard, meeting her former lover’s eyes with a soldier’s calm.
“I’m...” She stopped, exhaling heavily, massaging her temples. Kaidan hated all the universe for giving her all these trials, for expecting so much from her. He turned to face her fully, aching that he had not been there to help her with her burden, acutely feeling her weariness, her bitterness, and her unspoken anger at the ongoing struggle that was her everyday existence.
He watched as Shepard’s countenance darkened, and fought mentally with himself, wondering if she would accept him if he were to try to comfort her as he so desperately wished to do. And then she finished her sentence, and he was floored. Commander Shepard raised her defiant green eyes to his.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to save us, but I will.”
Kaidan’s heart gave a painful swell of equal parts pride and sorrow at how easily she took up her burden, asking for no help, and worse, expecting none.
His eyes softened, and he went to her.

(Characters and paradigm belong to Bioware)