Make It Mean Something

Posted: September 8, 2014 by writingsprint in Science fiction
Tags: , , , , , ,
Cracked Planet

“Cracked Planet” by Sadman

Warning: This post has spoilers for the video game Mass Effect 2. If you’re thinking about playing this series — and I highly recommend that you do 🙂 — stop reading now.

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This takes place shortly after the mission to the Normandy wreckage. I’m playing the Paragon (good guy) version of commander Shepard. My take is that he doesn’t trust the Cerberus organization and in some ways he trusts Miranda even less, since she represents them. I also don’t know where she’s coming from yet, so I’m playing it that way: she’s loyal to Cerberus and doesn’t know how loyal she can be to Shepard, yet. (For all of you who’ve already played it, don’t tell me!!!)

Shepard came back from the mission to Alchera looking like a shadow of himself. He contacted Alliance fleet command and handed off some relics to the doctor for preservation. Shepard also took still pictures and a few short vids of the site. It was chilling stuff. Old, black bones of shining metal against a backdrop of aurora borealis.

No one said anything to him. Miranda thought that Garrus might, but the Turian kept to himself. It looked like the two of them had some ghosts they were wrestling with. Shepard kept moving. He didn’t talk as much, or smile, but the work was getting done. Miranda thought of noting his condition in a report to Cerberus if it didn’t improve.

The next day she was surprised when he came to her office. Usually he stayed away from her unless they were on a mission. Trying to keep away from Cerberus’ spy.

“Commander. What can I do for you?” she asked.

“The other day, you told me about how you joined Cerberus. How it was a difficult time for you.”

The hair on the back of her neck stood up. Miranda had been trying to break down some of the ice between them. She’d gone farther than she’d planned. She hoped she didn’t regret it. “Yes?”

“I wanted to talk for a few minutes about the landing on Alchera.”

Normally she would have said ‘of course,’ but something in the look on his face made her ask, “How can I help?”

Shepard let out a breath. His shoulders relaxed. He looked worse than he did when he came through the door, but in a way that was better than the husk he’d been for three days. Shepard sat down on the couch toward the interior hull, facing the view port. Miranda came around to the other side of her desk and sat down across from him.

He began, “It was something else going down to the Normandy wreckage. They called it a crash site.” He shook his head. “We didn’t crash. Crashing’s what you do when you’re not looking where you’re driving or you have some kind of engine failure. We were ambushed. They broke Normandy’s back while we were still in space. It’s a graveyard, not a crash site.”

His words sank into him. She could see them working their way through his head. The shadows of his face looked even darker. “Go on,” she said softly.

It took him a moment. She was surprised when he looked at her. “I thought I’d feel more, when I got there. Y’know, on the way in I checked the wreckage, checked for life signs, looked for a flat LZ. Not a problem. I had my weapons in case I needed them, and you guys were keeping an eye on me.”

She’d been in the CIC, pretending to do other work, but watching over him personally. He was too valuable to let go on his own. She’d had a rescue team on standby in case something went wrong. The Illusive Man would have had her head if he’d died in an accident on the ground.

His gaze drifted off. “As I walked out among the pieces, it all came back to me. I kept feeling like I was about to hear the clang of my feet on the deck. That I was about to hear Joker make a crack about our stupid mission.”

“Joker’s here.”

“I know.” He went on, “Some of the exposed cables, I remembered seeing those when Silvestri or Biggins were running maintenance. For me, that was fucking last week.”

He leaned forward, fingers interlaced over his mouth. “I was afraid I’d see a few bodies, maybe people who died belted into their chairs. There was nothing left. Probably burned up on the way in.”

Miranda became aware of how quiet it was in the office. Even the ship’s reactor seemed muted.

He chuckled. The sound surprised her. “Y’know, I saw the Mako.”

“The what?”

“All-terrain armored personnel carrier that we used for drops. Half buried under snow drifts, all the wheels intact. That tough bastard looked like you could still drive it. God, I hated that thing. It bounced like its tires were filled with helium. It never rolled over on us, though. And it was a mean son of a bitch. Good firepower.”

“It brought you home.”

“Yeah, it did.”

Shepard lowered his head. He rubbed the back of his neck. To the floor, he said, “It was our ship. It was home. It’s broken into pieces just like I was.”

“You’re here. You’re alive. You made it.”

He closed his eyes. “I remember when it happened. I heard the air whistling out of my helmet. My face burned. Everything hurt. Then I was screaming but I couldn’t hear, I became delirious, and I blacked out. Then I woke up in your lab.”

He looked at her. His eyes pierced her. Miranda thought that if they’d been any sharper they’d be cutting holes through her body and out the bulkhead. “I died. This is just a second life.”

The hair stood up on the back of her neck again. Opening up to someone twice in one week couldn’t be good. He had to hear it. She thought it would help. “One of my first missions for Cerberus was a sweep and clear op on Zelkath. A group of slavers. I thought I was such hot shit. They saw us coming. I took a hit in the shoulder in the first wave. Brachial artery. I went down, and the last thing I saw was my second in command taking a hit right through the eye. All I thought before I lost consciousness was that I was going to die and they all were, too.”

“What happened?”

“Same as you. I died. I got lucky. Medic took charge of the squad. He brought me back to life while taking needle fire from the slavers and directing the counterattack.”

Shepard nodded. Miranda said again, “You made it, Shepard. Make it mean something.”

Shepard made a fist. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. The Reapers and the Collectors aren’t going to stop themselves.” He stood up. “Thanks for listening, Miranda.”

She stood up, too. “Any time, Shepard.”

He walked out. Miranda sat at her desk for a full five minutes trying to make up her mind what to do next. She stared at the door where he’d gone. She looked at her console, which was waiting for her to do what she was supposed to do.

Finally, she lifted it back up, activating the screen, and tapped the record button. “Secure correspondence to Illusive Man, authorization Miranda echo two two zero five epsilon.”

“Secure channel and message encryption enabled,” EDI, the ship’s AI, said.

“Alliance mission to Normandy crash s… correction, Normandy wreckage, complete. Commander Shepard exhibited depression for several days but recovery is satisfactory.” She hesitated. Then she continued, “Shepard also exhibited a new willingness to confide in me as part of this recovery. I believe this indicates progress in gaining his trust in our presence on this ship, and in Cerberus in general.”

The console beeped. EDI said, “Message ready for transmission. Send message?”

“Affirmative.”

“Message sent.”

Miranda returned to her work. Trust was a valuable thing. She needed to encourage that.

Photo credit: “Cracked Planet” by Sadman. Used without permission.

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