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(Fic) Memory

19th March 2012 (22:20)

This is another 'Mass Effect' fic, I'm afraid. I've now finished ME3, and wasn't nearly as outraged by the endings as I expected to be given the internet rage they've generated. Honestly, I'm a Joss Whedon fan: ME3 didn't have nearly enough deaths of beloved characters or dei ex machina plot twists to bother me. Even so, I felt the need for a fill-in-the-blank fic to handwave away some of the more obvious dodgy bits in the plotting.

The fic is in the same continuity as the one I wrote a couple of weeks ago, for those keeping track. (On which note, can I just say yay for AO3? 'The Lower Reaches' got something like 11 views in total here on LJ, but on AO3 it's the most popular thing I've ever written, with hundreds and hundreds of views in just two weeks. \o/

Title: Memory
Fandom: Mass Effect (spoilers for the ending of ME3)
Character: Liara T'soni
Playthrough: Paragon Adept female Shepard who romanced Liara in all three games, and chose the Destruction ending.
Wordcount: 2,174
Rating: 15
Warnings: Death, birth, tragedy, post traumatic stress disorder, and the ME3 canon endings.

Liara survived the last battle on Earth. This is what she can remember.




Memory

Liara doesn't remember getting back on the Normandy.

Not clearly, anyway. There are flashes, fragments of memory. She sees them in her nightmares; images so vivid they hurt, but then the memory overwhelms her and she can't go further. Eventually, she tried writing down her dreams; hoping to pin the memories down in cold, sterile words and draw them out of her head that way. Maybe it worked, a little; or maybe that was just the passage of time smoothing the raw, bleeding edges.

But those scraps of journal entries can be sorted into a rough narrative, and now she thinks she knows what happened, in those last desperate minutes.

There's one thing she never needed to write down, will never forget. Her last sight of Shepard: head down, running straight for the Reaper beam. Not looking back at the people following her.

Sometimes Liara hates her for that. For keeping her eyes fixed on the goal, not sparing a thought for those behind her. Not thinking about her. But then Liara gets angry at herself, and guilty. They'd all known what was at stake, and Shepard had to put the mission first. She wouldn’t have been the person Liara fell in love with if she hadn't.

It still hurts, though.

Then the banshee had appeared. The thought of those creatures, hideously twisted members of her own species, still fills Liara with horror and anger. And this one was heading straight for Shepard - who, running straight forward, hadn't seen it coming for her. Liara remembers screaming a warning, but it was lost in the sounds of battle.

Apparently she screamed the same warning in her nightmares nearly every night, the first month after their escape. She doesn't remember that.

Liara can't clearly see in her mind what happened next; but later on, Garrus helped fill in some of the details, as she sat next to his hospital bed. She'd slowed down, hit the banshee's barriers with her strongest biotic pulse. Garrus had targeted it too, and the banshee turned away from Shepard and came directly for them. Somehow, between the two of them, they managed to kill the asari husk - but by the time they did, she'd lost sight of Shepard.

Then the world burst into flames.

Thinking back, she's now worked out it was the Reaper's laser that hit the ground perhaps a metre from where they were standing. It couldn’t have been a direct hit, of course, because they were still alive. But in her nightmares, all Liara remembers is red flame and blinding agony, and being tossed aside like a feather in the wind.

After that, things get darker. She remembers someone picking her up, dragging her along with them. She has a bizarre yet vivid mental picture in her mind of a turian, his armour half-melted onto his body, being cradled in the arms of a krogan as he was lifted into a shuttle. There are voices, too, in her dreams; but she tries to forget them. They were speaking words of panic and loss, of failure and defeat. "We have to get out of here", "They wiped out the whole squad", "All forces retreat!" "Fall back!""It's over". "Shepard's dead."

"Shepard's dead."

Apparently she'd clawed her way out of the couch they were trying to strap her into and tried to use her biotics to blast open the shuttle door so she could go back down there - despite the fact that they were already 2000 metres in the air and accelerating rapidly. Luckily, her injuries hindered her from summoning the necessary energies (and probably killing everyone in the shuttle), and then they'd sedated her. Later on, when she heard the story, she sought out the medic she'd attacked and apologised to him in person.

They must have docked with the Normandy, because her next clear memory is the human doctor Chakwas examining her and applying medi-gel and bandages. Her voice had been cold, retreating into professionalism to avoid the horror of the situation. "The physical injuries are relatively minor", she'd said, with a slight emphasis on the word 'physical'. "Take her to her own room. Look after her." Then she'd turned straight away to the next casualty waiting for her attention. There were many of them.

They'd laid her down in her bed. What happened next isn't clear. She remembers dragging herself straight out of bed again and over to her monitors. Her eyes were blurring, but with a word to Glyph he activated the systems on her behalf, and she could see.

But she couldn’t have. She was unconscious when it all happened. She's constructed a false memory, they tell her: later on she must have watched recorded footage of the final battle, over and over, until she convinced herself she was actually there watching as it happened. But Liara doesn't believe them. She knows she saw it.

The space battle was unfolding before her in all its glittering, deadly beauty; there were even some functioning pickups down on Earth that showed her the ground fighting. But nothing from the area she most wanted to see; the place her lover died.

The Reapers were winning. That was obvious from the briefest glance at the screens. The combined fleets and armies of the galaxy had done damage to them, perhaps more damage than in any previous cycle of their aeons-long existence; but it wasn't enough. It had always been a slender hope, a fool's hope; and that hope died with Shepard.

And then as Liara gripped the console in both hands to keep herself from falling to the floor, a miracle unfolded before her eyes.

The Citadel opened up like a flower greeting the sun, its petals unfolding and stretching. The Crucible, freed from its restraints, slid forward to meet it like a hummingbird dipping for nectar. They touched and linked, and there was a breathless pause. The wrath of battle faded away: even the Reapers seemed to cease fire as they waited for the next move.

Then a red glow began at the heart of the Citadel, cocooned between its arms; a burning flame of creation and destruction. The light waxed, spread, leaping from tower to rim and then pouring like rivers of fire down the outstretched arms.

Then it flared up nova-bright, hurling its energy in a deadly beam through deep space; and then it was gone. And the expanding wavefront of crimson fire engulfed the Reapers, one after another; and it ended them.

It was Shepard's last gift to the galaxy; Liara knew that, even as she watched. Cold logic says she must have survived after all, reached the Citadel, and then died in the explosion that destroyed it. But in her heart, Liara sometimes thinks that Shepard was already dead, before she ever reached the Citadel; it's just that not even death could stop her fulfilling her mission.

Liara doesn't believe in spirits or goddesses, not anymore. Not after a certain conversation with a Prothean on Thessia. But she believes in Shepard.

That belief sustained her through the days and weeks that followed. She has no memory of the Normandy's frantic attempt to escape the wavefront, as Jeff broke all safety regulations in engaging the FTL drive too close to other ships, yet somehow managed to avoid hitting them. She does remember his sob of despair as he failed, and the electronic screech as EDI died - or was that another created memory, from the bridge logs?

But she does remember the crash landing. They'd reached the Tau Ceti system, six light years from Earth. There was a habitable planet there, and it had been earmarked for colonisation in the early days of the humans' space exploration. But then the mass relay network had opened up thousands of worlds to settlement, many of them with richer resources or closer to the streams of galactic commerce, and Tau Ceti had become a backwater.

Jeff had fought and grappled with the crippled, bleeding Normandy and brought her in to a relatively soft landing, although the ship would never fly again. He didn't let his grief overcome his professionalism, and Liara decided she must do the same. She even managed a smile as she stepped out of the airlock onto the world's surface. It was beautiful: tall, blue mountains off in the distance, lush green forests rising around them; a flock of birds - or things that looked like birds - bursting out of the trees with a storm of wings and soaring across the clear blue sky.

It was a good place to be; a place for new beginnings.

Liara is asari. She's always known she would outlive her lover by far: she can expect to see another nine centuries, but human lifespan is less than ten percent of that. She always knew she'd have to say goodbye to Shepard one day: she just didn't expect it to be so soon. It hurts.  Some nights, she can hardly breathe from the pain.

But as the Thessian saying goes, she enjoyed the time they had together. Someday, she knows, the memories will bring bittersweet pleasure instead of torment.

They're living here now.  A scout ship came from Earth four months after the crash landing and found them. It didn't have much aid to offer, given the pressing need back on Earth; but it gave them some vital supplies and told them to expect visitors.

Liara hasn't been back to Earth yet; she'd not sure she's strong enough to withstand seeing it again. But she hears the humans are rebuilding. The Reapers killed hundreds of millions, either directly or through famine and plague, but humanity's homeworld still has a population in the billions, and plenty of work for them to do. The fate of the allied fleets assembled to fight the Reapers posed more of a problem.

None of them can go home again, with the mass relays destroyed. The Systems Alliance offered them all a home on Earth, of course, and many accepted. Others decided to seek out worlds of their own to settle within the range of conventional FTL drive. The turians, ironically enough, now find themselves a nomadic race and guests of the 'space gypsies' they once looked down on. Unable to eat Terran-grown crops, they were given sanctuary by the quarian admirals in their flotilla. Most of the quarian civilians had been left behind on Rannoch when the No-Longer-Migrant Fleet sailed to battle, leaving the liveships empty apart from their combat crews. Now the turians have taken them over - at least, until they can find an inhabitable planet that supports dextro-amino-acid based life.

As for this planet, it's now home to a thriving colony of humans, asari, salarians and even a few krogan. They all live together in the same settlement, a microcosm of the alliance they forged against the Reapers. They'd wanted to name the new town after the Commander, and came to Liara to ask her blessing and permission. She'd hated the very idea: the constant reminder of what she'd lost every time the name was spoken. But she disciplined her thoughts and schooled her expression into blankness, because she couldn't let her personal feelings get in the way of the wishes of so many people. And Shepard did deserve a memorial.

It wasn't until later that she realised, she might have one.

That last peaceful moment they had together, before the end. She'd wanted to give Shepard a gift, her memories of the first time they met; something to take with her and sustain her at the end. And so they'd Joined, briefly, their minds linking and engaging together. Usually that was incredibly difficult and painful for an asari to do if, she wasn't extremely sexually aroused - and Liara certainly hadn't been in that sort of mood minutes before their last doomed battle. But she and Shepard were so close, so intimate, that their minds just slid into synchronisation so smoothly. And then she'd given Shepard her last message; one of love and hope that could transcend even death. Minds and bodies were linked together as one.

Liara smiles, as she sits on the terrace outside the prefabricated shelter she now calls home. It's perhaps the first genuine, unforced smile she's made since she left Earth. Her fingertips drum lightly on her abdomen.

The nature of asari biology means that she's got plenty of time to decide what to do. She's only 110 years old, after all. And she's single, and widowed; and can't really imagine ever finding or wanting another mate - but honestly, that description would fit most asari over a certain age. And the vast majority of the children of her species turn out perfectly fine.

She'll probably never return home to Thessia; but she can build a new home here. And Shepard can't be with her in body; but she'll never be forgotten.

"I'm sorry, my love, that I can't keep my promise to you entirely. You wanted blue babies. Will one be enough?"



Comments

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 20th March 2012 14:57 (UTC)

Very nice. Makes me think I should look into these Mass Effect games. Is Liara/Shepard a canon pairing?

Wish I could find the inspiration to write non-PWP fanfic again.

I also need to look into getting an AO3 account. I guess it's more active than I thought it was. I've noticed a decline in LJ... not just the usual stuff like wonky interface and the constant DOS attacks. Activity in general seems to be down by quite a bit. I don't have a paid account so I can't see pageviews, but comments seem to be declining.

I'm not entirely sure how you attract viewers in AO3, though. I guess there's no friends-list system there?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th March 2012 15:25 (UTC)

Thanks!

Shepard is the character you play, who can be either male or female, paragon (Buffy-style morality) or renegade (Late-season 'Angel' Wesley-style). You have the choice between several love interests in each game; Liara is one who appears in all three games, so her and Shepard is as canonical a pairing as you can get, but not the only possible one.

The reference at the end to "(little) blue babies" is from canon too: in the second game it's said as more of a joke when they're talking about what they might do after all the fighting is over; in the third game there's a call-back to it in their final emotional conversation just before the big battle to settle the fate of the galaxy. Presumably if you romanced one of the other potential love interests they make an different comment! (Asari, you may have gathered, have blue skin.)


I think LJ is declining and Buffy fandom is declining too, so it's a vicious circle. On the other hand, putting a Mass Effect fic online the week ME3 was released probably ensured I got a lot more views than normal!

I believe you can subscribe to particular people on AO3 so you're notified if they post a new fic; but it's still more of a database site than a social site. You "attract viewers" by tagging your fic with things people are likely to search for, writing an interesting summary, and hoping you picked a fandom and character/pairing that people are interested in. That's basically it.


Posted by: phil_k_87 (phil_k_87)
Posted at: 22nd March 2012 00:48 (UTC)
Nice try

Yet fixing the ending while still assuming the ending to have took place, esp. the part of the Normandy crashing on a habitable planet, is futile ;P

And come on, destroy ending? Like killing the Geth and EDI along with it? Hell to the no!

And my Shepard never would accept an ending that destroys the means of long distance space travel. And that happens in all different colored versions.

I felt so cheated by the options.

In the end however, your fic is a nice bit of closure for anyone who romanced Liara. Which I didn't.

Do you might give Talimancers a chance at closure? ;)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd March 2012 09:22 (UTC)
Re: Nice try

Well...

We know the 'Normandy' can cross the distance between close-together stars really quickly, because we did it all the time in the exploration minigames. So Joker quickly looking up the nearest inhabitable planet and nursing the crippled starship to land there = perfectly plausible.

Killling the geth and EDI - yes, it sucks. But it sucked when on Thessia, Shepard had to order the asari commandoes and gunships to certain death in order to cover her run to the temple. Casualties happen in war.

And we were told specifically that the Destroy option would not prevent more synthetic lifeforms being developed in the future, because the Catalyst was all, "Oh, without the Reapers you'll risk more war", and my Shepard would flip that off and say, "We'll take that risk when we come to it, just like we took the same risk when we cured the genophage."

For that matter, the ending didn't actually SHOW EDI and the geth being destroyed - and apparently EDI can show up on the planet when the Normandy crashes even if you choose the 'destroy' ending. So, handwave time: the Crucible kills all Reaper-type synthetic life, but if you managed to uplift EDI all the way to full personhood and got Tali to admit the geth have souls, then they no longer register as "synthetic life", they're just alive, and the explosion doesn't harm them.


my Shepard never would accept an ending that destroys the means of long distance space travel

Mine would consider that a small sacrifice to pay in order to save the galaxy. And besides, the Sol system is now littered with the remains of dead Reapers and the wreckage of the Citadel, plus representatives of all advanced species; and presumably QEC communication to the other homeworlds still works fine. How long will it take them to reverse-engineer how to make a new mass relay?

If I were to write a story featuring Tali, it would probably have her being one of the lead engineers on the New Relay project, or perhaps leading a quarian fleet through realspace to set up a relay on the far end and extend the network.

Glad you liked the story, anyway. :)

Posted by: phil_k_87 (phil_k_87)
Posted at: 25th March 2012 13:52 (UTC)
Re: Nice try

Killling the geth and EDI - yes, it sucks. But it sucked when on Thessia, Shepard had to order the asari commandoes and gunships to certain death in order to cover her run to the temple. Casualties happen in war.

There is a difference between accepting necessary casualties and genocide. I rather doom whole mankind to die than to survive by sacrificing my friends. And I consider EDI and Geth to be equally worth of saving.

Just as I could not defend turning all the organics into some partial-cybernetics without the people's consent.

Which only left control, which meant Sheppard dying and become Space-Jesus. Meh.

Oh can I just say that I frakking hate the ending!? It's like re-imagined Battlestar Galactica kind of bad.


And we were told specifically that the Destroy option would not prevent more synthetic lifeforms being developed in the future,


Just because new synthetics can be built does not justify killing the ones living today. I don't care about hypothetical future beings, but those who are and have intent to continue living.


because the Catalyst was all, "Oh, without the Reapers you'll risk more war", and my Shepard would flip that off and say, "We'll take that risk when we come to it, just like we took the same risk when we cured the genophage."


This might seem hypocritical, but I supported the genophage.

Well, it's complicated.

As in: I did not want to take the risk of Krogan dominance, and I think Krogan should first change their culture to not be so war-mongering before a cure should be applied. And even then, birth control would be advisably.

I destroyed the research in ME2 and supported Mordin back then, and tried to convince him to walk away in ME3 but I wasn't Paragon enough. Had to shoot him right in the back. I felt like a total monster ...

Those were the moments that made ME3 awesome. Then the ending came. /sigh

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