If It Meant Living - Chapter 72
"The Cycle Ends"
Title: If It Meant Living Chapter 72: "The Cycle Ends"
Game: Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2/Mass Effect 3
Disclaimer: Bioware owns all rights to Mass Effect and its characters
Content Warning: Language, Violence, Sexual Themes
Shepard sighed happily against Kaidan's lips, grinning devilishly as she slowly rolled off his chest and collapsed onto the sand beside him. He breathed in deeply, calming his racing heart, and grasped her hand in his as a wave broke softly and tickled the edge of her skin.
She giggled as she gazed up at the star-filled Pacific Northwest sky. "Now isn't this better than sitting on a transport back to the Citadel so we can go fight more Geth?"
"On the pleasure spectrum, with getting shot in the gut on one end and sitting on a transport to the Citadel at the one-third mark, this would in fact be at the other end."
Her eyes cut over to him, an eyebrow raised.
He cringed. "Okay, that was a little nerdy."
"A little." She smiled affectionately then returned to staring up at the stars. "I hope heaven is like this. A trillion stars around you, an ocean lapping at your toes, a cool breeze on your skin "
"Lots of sex?"
She laughed in delight. "Yes. Lots of amazing sex."
He was quiet for a moment, unsure whether he should broach the subject. While he had known her for several months now, he had only just begun to truly understand her. Finally he decided to dive in.
"Do you believe in heaven? In God?"
She exhaled slowly, but didn't seem offended by the question, her thumb lazily caressing his palm. "I I never went to church, or any worship ritual I don't pray to a god well, that's not quite true occasionally when I'm in a hellacious firefight I'll pray to all of them, on the off chance that at least one of them exists and happens to be listening. It's worked out well enough so far."
She stretched out her arm towards the sea, her fingertips dancing in the receding wave. "But I have to believe that there's more to us than flesh and blood, that our brief existence isn't all there is for us. I don't pretend to have any idea whether our souls reincarnate and we live thousands of lives, or whether when we die we rejoin the great galactic consciousness, or gaia, or whether it's something else entirely."
She looked up at the midnight sky, eyes sparkling in the moonlight. "But if it is heaven I hope it's like this."
Kaidan leaned against a tree, one of the few remaining standing outside the damaged hospital, and gazed out at the crystal blue skies of Vancouver, already dotted with construction cranes in motion and vehicles whizzing by. The destruction, the sheer devastation, was nearly unfathomable in scope yet the work of rebuilding had begun in earnest in the dawn light the day after the Reapers fell.
It warmed his heart to see his city, his home, rising from the ashes. In a few short months Vancouver would sparkle and shine, all traces of the Reapers erased. His gaze shifted north to the mountains it wouldn't be quite so easy to bring back the natural beauty that had been burnt away. But in time, even that would return.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her round the building her stride immediately familiar though it was slowed by lingering injury, her form instantly recognizable though it was unusually clad in faded jeans and a simple gray t-shirt. The sunlight turned her hair the color of fire, and he swore he could see her lavender eyes sparkling from across the lawn.
He met her halfway, leaning in and kissing her softly as he wrapped his arms around her, careful not to press against the still-healing wound in her side. Part of him still couldn't believe that she was really here alive, in one piece, mostly and that she had done it. The impossible. She, of course, claimed that her role had mostly involved standing around smarting off at the mouth while she bled all over everything but he knew better; they all did. Every member of her team new perfectly well the full extent and scope of what she had done.
He tucked strands of hair behind her ear, breathing her in, the ever-so-familiar scent of vanilla and cinnamon and coffee and ozone. "So I was thinking as soon we can, we should go to a beach somewhere."
Shepard murmured against his ear. "I think that's a marvelous idea but where did it come from?"
"I just think that after all you've done, you deserve a little bit of heaven."
She pulled back, an eyebrow raising questioningly then she remembered. Her lips curled up in an affectionate grin. "Turns out I don't need a beach for that after all." Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "Mind you, I'll certainly take one "
She kissed him again, then stepped back and stretched out her arm, grasping his hand in hers. "Come on, let's go see him."
Kahlee looked up as they entered, smiling broadly. "David, you have visitors."
Anderson slowly turned his head towards them, a tired smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
He looked terrible. At least a dozen tubes and sensors snaked out from under the sheet; his skin was an ashen gray, hanging on his bones like it was two sizes too large. His body sunk into the bed as though held there by heavy bricks.
But he looked alive, and that's what mattered. She went to the side of the bed, grasping his hand in hers and squeezing it tightly. "You look well, a hell of a lot better than the last time I saw you."
"I could say the same for you, Shepard and I'd be telling the truth."
Kaidan clasped him on the shoulder. "Admiral, I can't tell you what a relief it is to see you awake."
Anderson huffed a breath. "Alenko, I think 'Admiral' is a little formal for the setting, don't you?"
Kaidan chuckled slightly as they sat down. "Alright, Anderson. Have it your way."
Shepard dropped her elbows to her knees and leaned forward. "So how are you doing, really?"
He sighed in weary exasperation. "Well, I'm the proud owner of a brand new synthetic liver, stomach and partial intestines at this rate I'll soon be as much a cyborg as you. Assorted other internal parts have been 'reconstructed'. I haven't been allowed out of the bed yet I guess the doctors are afraid it'll all fall apart if I stand up. I'm looking at two months of rehab and injections and grafts and whatever else they can think up."
Kahlee squeezed his hand tightly. "But you're alive."
He nodded slowly. "That I am. And the Reapers are dead. Both of which, I believe, are due to you, Shepard."
She smiled a little. "I had a lot of help."
"Yeah " He paused. "Shepard, why didn't you tell me what you were really up to? I don't know what I could have done to help, but I could have tried." He sounded hurt.
She nodded emphatically and met his gaze. "I wanted to, I really did. But all these months on Earth with the Reapers there was a chance, however small, that you were indoctrinated. Everything depended on secrecy, and we just couldn't risk it. I'm sorry."
He waved a hand weakly in her direction. "Ah, hell in your position I would've done the same. I don't blame you. And it worked out, didn't it?"
The smile that crept across her features then was bright, mischievous and full of life. "Actually it worked out better than we could possibly have imagined."
His brow furrowed. He had seen that look on her face before, and it usually meant trouble and often salvation. "What do you mean ?"
Her head tilted slightly. "You know that EDI took over as the AI for the Citadel, right?" At his slight nod she continued. "Well, it turns out that the AI contained files on every cycle, every civilization that the Reapers destroyed, all the way back to and including the species that designed it. And not just historical records extensive files on what they thought, what they did, and what they created."
"Hackett is taking the most talented people from the Crucible Project and forming a very secret, very specialized team that will study the data in those files separate the dangerous from the beneficial, set up research teams to develop potentially useful technologies, and make sure it's used for the good of all species."
She looked over across the bed and smiled. "It's not official yet, but Hackett gave me permission to let you know, Kahlee he'll be asking you to join the team."
Kahlee looked over at Anderson tenderly. "I don't know my only job right now is helping David get well."
Shepard nodded in understanding. "Of course; there's plenty of time actually, there really is plenty of time. Anderson, make sure you do get well because if you can manage to hang on for a little while longer, you're going to get to be around for a very long time."
His brow furrowed at her yet again.
She leaned forward intently. "In those files lies the answer to to any question we can think of asking. Thousands of cycles; millions of civilizations, many of them far more advanced than ours. The species that created the Catalyst thrived for two hundred millennia. We're talking about a revolution in science, in medicine, life extension, technology, weapons, interstellar travel. It's going to take years for all of it to bear fruit, but " Her eyes shone with the promise of the future.
" but it's going to change everything."
Joker drummed his fingers on his thigh absently, his mind far away. The Normandy was silent save for the occasional clang of one of the few crew members aboard moving around. With all the refugees and military personnel flooding Earth in the aftermath of the battle, he had volunteered to bunk on the ship. Might as well even if it was no longer truly the Normandy he loved. But, seeing as she wasn't going anywhere for the time being, he didn't actually have anything to occupy his time
He exhaled heavily and dropped his head back against the cockpit chair, then glanced at the clock. He was supposed to meet Shepard and the others for lunch in an hour, but damned if he could get up the will to go they were going to be all chipper and happy and 'we saved the galaxy aren't we cool and shit', and he just didn't think he could take it.
Legion's voice penetrated his sulking. "Flight Lieutenant Moreau, an individual is requesting permission to come aboard."
He squeezed his eyes shut. He hated Legion's voice. Grating, impersonal annoying. He hadn't particularly cared for Legion when he had been alive, much less now that he had taken over his damn ship
"Who is it?"
"They have asked that I not identify them."
He sighed. "What the well do they have clearance or not?"
"Fine then, whatever "
He kicked his legs up on the control panel in a show of feigned relaxation
A feminine, sensual voice washed over him. "What do you say when you get into a vehicle accident on Thessia?"
He spun around in the chair, nearly falling and breaking a leg in his haste to stand up.
Before him stood EDI yet more. It was her mech body, he thought, but it she had skin. Pale, almost luminescent skin. And hair. Shoulder-length, slightly curly, flowing blond hair. She was wearing a dark crimson science uniform. And she was smiling at him, eyes twinkling.
She looked human.
He breathed in deeply, blinking repeatedly to cover what were most definitely in no way whatsoever tears. Finally he gave her his best smirk. "I don't know EDI, what do you say when you get into a vehicle accident on Thessia?"
She gazed at him tenderly. "I'm a-sari. It's just-i-car."
His eyebrows raised incredulously as he burst out laughing, shoulders shaking as his chin dropped to his chest. "EDI, that is the worst joke I have ever heard."
Then he raised his chin, crossed the meter separating them, and took her in his arms. It was amazing she felt human against him.
His head rested against her shoulder as her arms encircled him. "EDI, you have skin and hair "
"Yes, Jeff, I do. The files we recovered from Cerberus Headquarters included all the details on the construction of Dr. Coré. From there it was a simple manner of acquiring the materials and applying them to this body."
She pulled back, resting her hands on his shoulders, and her face took on a sad expression. "Jeff, why have you not come and visited me on the Citadel?"
He rolled his eyes in feigned dismissiveness. "Well, I figured what with you having that shiny new ginormous body and all that power and all that work to do and the whole galaxy to explore, you wouldn't really have time for me to just be hanging around "
Her hand drifted up his neck to stroke his cheek. "I will always have time for you, Jeff."
A wave of relief washed over him. "Oh, okay then." Suddenly his eyes flashed with excitement. "Are you going to come back and be the Normandy again?"
She shook her head wistfully. "No, Jeff. I am the Citadel now. They need me. But " She grasped the sides of his face and forced him to look at her. " but I am also this body. And its range is the entire galaxy. Maybe maybe I could be your co-pilot?"
His eyes widened. "Really? That would be I mean, we'd have to get the Alliance to agree to it, but seeing how you saved the entire damned galaxy and all, I don't see how they could refuse, right? It'll be awesome, we'll " He stopped, his shoulders dropping. "But you'd be bored. You wouldn't even be running the ship. I can't ask you to do that just to humor me "
She ran her fingers over his lips. "Jeff, adventures with you will never be boring. And more than that it's important. I believe that this body that you will keep me grounded, keep me sane. Give me humanity amidst all the power."
He grinned as she leaned in and kissed him softly with real lips, holy shit this was awesome. "Oh okay then "
After a moment she pulled back, smiling. "Now, I believe we have a lunch date to keep."
The mid-day sun reflected off English Bay on the horizon as they entered the restaurant patio, arm-in-arm. The place was teeming with people, being one of the few restaurants that had managed to both re-open and to acquire a supply of dextro-based foods, in order to serve the Turians and Quarians who had remained on Earth following the battle.
"Shepard, Kaidan! Over here!" Tali stood up and waved them over. The large circular table was already packed, but they squeezed in two more chairs. She eased in next to Garrus, wincing slightly as she slowly lowered herself into the chair.
Garrus smiled affectionately. "Not quite a hundred percent just yet, huh?"
She glared at him from under her eyelashes. "Just give me a gun and possibly a wheelchair and I'm ready to take on the galaxy."
He chuckled lightly. "Well, hopefully the galaxy can take care of itself for a little while. Here, I took the liberty of ordering your favorite beer for you." He slid over two bottles. "Kaidan."
Kaidan leaned back in the chair and took a long swig, then smiled contentedly. "Thanks, man."
Liara leaned forward across the table. "How's Admiral Anderson doing?"
Shepard shifted to the side as the waiter appeared with appetizers. "He got torn up pretty bad; he's facing a long recovery. But he's awake, he's talking, and Kahlee's with him. He's going to be just fine ooh, sweet potato fries!" Her eyes sparkled as she gleefully popped one in her mouth.
She settled into the chair, resting her hand over Kaidan's on the armrest. "Okay, guys. This may be the last time we're all together hopefully not forever, but maybe for a long time. So, round robin. Where are you going, what are you doing? Tali, you first."
Tali pulled the straw from her mask and set her drink down, then grinned over at Kal. "We're going to see about building that house on Rannoch we're, um, getting married "
Shepard positively squealed in delight as congratulations rang around the table.
Tali giggled in embarrassment at all the attention. "It will be a couple of months, but we hope all of you will come. And we're not retiring or anything, I don't know how often we'll really be there on Rannoch, but it'll be home." She suddenly looked around curiously. "Where's Javik?"
Shepard sighed quietly. "No one knows. He disappeared the day after the battle, while I was still unconscious left me a message thanking me for everything, and that he was going home." She shook her head slowly. "I don't know what that means but I'm not sure that we'll ever see him again."
The table was suddenly quiet for a moment but then she perked up. "No mourning for him he found the vengeance he so desperately sought, and so found his peace. Who's next? Miranda?"
Miranda leisurely sipped her martini. "Well, first, Ori and I are going to take a loooong vacation, and finally get to properly know one another. After that " She sighed dramatically. "I'm going to take over my father's company. It's funny that's the one thing he always wanted, and I had to kill him in order for it to happen. But it won't be like before. With all his resources, I think I can do some real good."
Then she grinned slyly at Shepard. "Of course, as soon as Ori is ready, I'm giving her the company and running off to do whatever the hell I want "
Shepard returned the grin. "Of course. EDI, we know what you're doing "
EDI nodded perfunctorily. "I'm going to be Jeff's co-pilot."
Shepard shook her head incredulously. "Right. That's exactly what I meant."
Joker made a show of being offended. "Hey! It's an important job, being my wingmanwomanrobotperson."
"Yeah, yeah. James?"
He motioned the waiter for another beer. "Well Admiral Kennedy has asked me to lead a group here on Earth. We're going spend the next year or however long it takes traveling around to all the military installations, helping them rebuild. We'll be surveying the damage, figuring out what they need to get on their feet again, providing whatever special resources and attention they require." He nodded slowly in satisfaction. "It'll be good to be part of putting Earth back together again."
Then he grinned and elbowed Cortez next to him. "And Esteban here's going to be my chauffeur. Isn't that right?"
Cortez made a show of raising his eyebrows in mock indignation. "If you don't stop calling me your 'chauffeur', it won't be "
James sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. "Fine Lieutenant Cortez will, in addition to being the team's pilot, be responsible for securing and organizing all requisitions for the rebuilding effort."
Cortez crossed his arms over her chest and nodded. "That's better."
Shepard grinned. "Uh-huh. Liara?"
Liara leaned back, casually studying her glass. "Well, I've agreed to serve on the committee that will be overseeing the research into all the files EDI has acquired." She smiled somewhat wistfully. "I think it's time I started studying more than the Protheans. There's an entire galactic history waiting to be discovered."
Shepard took a slow sip of her beer, watching Liara over the rim of the bottle. "To hear Hackett tell it, you've going to be running the committee."
She fiddled with her glass. "Yes, well perhaps."
Kaidan gazed over at Liara. "And the Shadow Broker?"
Liara smiled mysteriously. "Let's just say there are many hours in the day." She quickly turned beside her. "Kasumi, what about you?"
Kasumi relaxed in her chair, kicking a leg over the armrest. "Do you have any idea how many priceless objects there are, lying unprotected and abandoned across the galaxy, right now? I hardly know where to start "
EDI looked over at Kasumi questioningly, and Kasumi rolled her eyes in resignation. "Actually, EDI and I have a little project we're going to work on together EDI's going to help me construct an AI from Keiji's graybox "
Shepard leaned forward in surprise. "Kasumi, that's a wonderful idea. Is he going to have a body?"
"Hell, yes! You don't think I'm in this just for his mind, do you?" As laughter rebounded around the table, Kasumi sank back in her chair. "Of course, that part will probably take a bit longer "
When the laughter had died down, Shepard nudged Garrus. "What about you, Garrus? You've been awfully quiet over there."
He made a show of casually stretching. "Well, the offers having been rolling in day and night, of course, as have the marriage proposals " He ducked as James lobbed a fry at him from across the table. "Okay, okay. In all seriousness Primarch Victus asked me to come back to Palaven and serve on the Heirarchy's Select Committee but I'm just not a politician. Luckily, I got a better offer. Councilor Sparatus has offered to name me Executor."
He grinned in satisfaction. "I'm going to run C-Sec. It will need to be built again almost from the ground up; they lost two-thirds of their officers in the Reaper attack. But I've got time; it'll be several months before the Citadel is in any kind of shape for people to start moving back there. And this time, it'll be done right."
She patted his hand affectionately. "I'm glad, Garrus. It couldn't be in better hands."
Joker nodded over at her. "What about you two? What the hell are you going to do now that you've saved the entire world? A stint as King and Queen of the Galaxy? Drop off the radar entirely? Run away and be pirates with Jack? Seeing as according to EDI we're all going to end up living to be a thousand or a million or whatever all of the above?"
Shepard laughed. "A million might be stretching it a bit we've got a long way to go yet. A thousand ? Time will tell, I suppose."
She studied her beer bottle for a moment. "I'll still be on medical restriction for several more weeks. And then there's all the clean-up and rebuilding to be done. But after that "
She gazed over at Kaidan as he squeezed her hand, and they smiled at one another in that way they had that made it seem as though they were the only two people in the universe.
"Anything we want."
Seven Years Later
Shepard leaned back in her chair, kicked her feet up onto her desk, and twirled a seashell through her fingers as she gazed idly around her office.
Well, this office anyway; she had offices all over the place in Vancouver, in the rebuilt Arcturus; they would probably build her offices on Palaven and Thessia if she asked, as often as she was there. But here on the Citadel was where they "lived," in the sense of spending more time than any other location.
Not on the Presidium, though they certainly could have if they chose, but rather in a Penthouse in Tayseri Ward, with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on the purple nebula through the open Citadel arms for after six months of cleaning and repair following the end of the Reaper War, the Citadel had been moved back to its home in the Serpent Nebula, because it wasn't Earth's right to keep it.
She reversed the direction of the seashell twirling between her fingers. She was bored.
While she didn't wish strife on the galaxy, she truly didn't it had been forever since there had been a conflict worthy of her attention. Other than a trip to Rannoch to meet Tali and Kal's new baby and a brief conference at Alliance HQ, she hadn't been off the Citadel in three entire months.
Before that, it wasn't a conflict at all, but rather the activation of the newest Mass Relay, opening up an entirely new cluster. That had been fun, spending weeks exploring half a dozen wild, untamed planets. They had found no intelligent life, but three of the planets were suitable for colonization which was a good thing, because with projected life expectancies already increasingly rapidly across virtually all species and birth rates showing no signs of decline, before long they were going to need more room. A lot more.
It wasn't that she had nothing to do; when she was at the Citadel her days were filled well enough with a variety of duties.
She had plans for next-generation starships to review; reports from the Research Council to review; private reports from Liara on what wasn't in the Research Council reports to review; intelligence reports on hot spots around the galaxy and requests for additional military resources to review. Damn but she did a lot of reviewing
She also spent an inordinate amount of time listening to Anderson bitch about the politics on the Galactic Council, now expanded to include representatives from seven species but no less annoying mostly because Kahlee had told him she was going to kick him out if he kept bitching about it to her. She met with a variety of dignitaries who for some reason seemed to think that their issue-du-jour would get more attention if they presented it to The Woman Who Saved The Galaxy From The Reapers than if they presented it to the Council. Of course if it was a worthy issue, they were probably right.
But the only real work she did when she was at the Citadel was to train a variety of special operations teams drawn from the military elite of virtually every species in Citadel space, any one or more of which then accompanied her whenever there was a conflict worthy of her attention. Officially, they comprised the Special Multi-Agency Galactic Rapid Deployment Force. Lacking a proper acronym, those who knew of its existence and they were few had simply nicknamed it "Shepard's Squads."
She idly tossed the seashell into the air, catching it in her palm and smiling softly as she ran a thumb over it.
"Shepard, do you have a moment?"
She rolled her eyes dramatically. "I have all the moments, EDI. What do you need?"
"I am detecting a new signal of unknown origin. The transmission language does not match any of the catalogued communication languages, but it does appear to be quite sophisticated in design and almost certainly not a natural phenomenon and it is a directed signal, not background radiation."
She perked up a little at that. "What system is it coming from?"
"It is not coming from a system. It is coming from the Large Magellanic Cloud."
She sucked in a breath. Another galaxy "Well now isn't that interesting. You said it was a directed signal directed at what?"
"Directed at us."
She sat up straight. "At 'us' as in the Citadel?"
"It appears so."
"I trust you are devoting additional resources to investigating this signal?"
"Of course, Shepard. However, given that there are no Mass Relays in LMC, my ability to learn more is mostly limited to attempts to decipher it."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Right. Put together a report on what you have so far, and we'll present it to the Council next week."
"Certainly would you like this report to recommend physical investigation of the signal?"
She chuckled lightly. "Only if you think that's the proper recommendation, EDI."
EDI paused. "There is currently only one starship capable of making such a journey in a reasonable period of time."
Her eyes lit up. "Yes, there is "
She stared out at the Presidium sky beyond her balcony for a few moments, her mind racing. Then she pulled her feet off the desk and made the two-minute journey to Kaidan's office, smiling politely at his secretary as she walked in. But the office was empty.
Where are you?
Communications devices had advanced to the point where they could be implanted in the brain, activated by thought and transmitting directed language. It had taken some getting used to, learning how to communicate what one wanted to say and not what one was thinking but now it was second nature to her.
It could also transmit spoken words, and proper etiquette dictated that one speak aloud whenever others were involved in the conversation. It was usually easy to spot those who were not following the social rules by the vacant, far-off look in their eyes though not if one was really good at it, which of course she was. The technology was still expensive and thus mostly limited to military and government personnel and the wealthy but like all such things these days, advancements came rapidly and in waves; she expected that in less than three years the technology would be ubiquitous.
Went to grab a sandwich at Apollo's, I missed lunch want one?
Nah, but hang there; I'll come to you.
He was leaning against the railing, his back to her, gazing out at the Presidium Lake. She slid in next to him, hand outstretched.
"I brought you an ice cream."
He looked over at her and chuckled as he took the cup from her hand. "What makes you think I wanted an ice cream?"
She dipped a spoon in hers and took a bite. "Because you always want an ice cream. Why'd you missed lunch?"
"Hmm " He mumbled through the ice cream filling his mouth. "Councilor Malano cornered me. He wanted to make the case, again, for why Captain Tovarian should be made a Spectre. I'm sorry, but the guy's reckless, and a hothead. Give him free reign, and he'll end up getting the wrong person killed or worse."
She frowned slightly. "Well you have as much veto power over who gets made a Spectre as the Council does just tell him no."
He groaned as he took another bite. "I know. I was just trying to be diplomatic you know me "
She nudged him lightly with her elbow. "I do. But you know, you run the Spectres for a reason."
He nodded grudgingly, smiling slightly. "Which would be why I told him no."
She casually flipped the spoon over and slowly licked it clean. "Do you remember, oh, say about seven years ago, after some truly spectacular sex on your first day back aboard the Normandy, when you told me that you would follow me to the edge of the galaxy and whatever lies beyond it?"
He sat his cup down on the railing and turned to her, reaching up and brushing flyaway strands of hair away from her face then leaning in close. "Of course I remember " He kissed her gently, long and slow, as her hand not holding her ice cream encircled him, settling easily in his hair. More than ten years since the first time, and he still never tired of the feel of her lips against his finally he pulled back slightly, touching the tip of his nose to hers. "Why?"
Her eyes danced as a crooked grin pulled at her lips. "Want to?"
Three Months Later
The Normandy SR-3 shone like a star beneath the floodlights of the Citadel dock. She was beautiful.
Stretching the limits of the frigate class, she was half again as large as the SR-2, yet even more sleek and graceful. Room for a crew of sixty plus ten private cabins and a captain's suite as big as many Citadel apartments, it was as much luxury liner as weapon.
But the crown jewel of the new ship was its propulsion system. It represented the first implementation of technology originating from the species that created the Catalyst, who had been on the cusp of developing true inter-galactic travel when war had broken out, the Catalyst had gone mad, and they had unwillingly become the first Reaper. EDI, along with some of the most brilliant scientists in the galaxy, had spent the last six years first understanding, then extending, and finally building, the technology.
In addition to the standard antiproton thrusters and FTL drive, the ship's engine had the capability to create, maintain, and traverse wormholes. The prototype engine installed in the SR-3 could open wormholes of a maximum of 1,000 light-years in "length", i.e., the distance from the entrance point to the exit point in normal space-time, but EDI was optimistic that future versions would be capable of far greater distances.
Even with the new drive the trip to the Large Magellanic Cloud would take more than five months; but this was a vastly shorter time than the fourteen years it would take using even the fastest FTL drives. In fact, there were already several ships bound on long-term voyages to nearby galaxies, including LMC but the Normandy would beat them there by years.
Kaidan's arms slid around her waist from behind, his lips nuzzling her ear. "What's going on in that complicated brain of yours?"
She smiled slightly, eyes still running over the shining hull, the not-even-dry deep blue Alliance symbol next to the crimson Galactic Council one. "I was just thinking about the first time I saw the original Normandy. She was the most beautiful ship I had ever seen but I'm fairly certain this one has her beat." She turned around to face him, draping her arms over his shoulders. "Was the best day of my life."
"Oh yeah? And why is that?"
"It was the day I met you, and you know it."
He grinned mischievously. "Yeah, but I still like to hear you say it."
Her eyes narrowed, but she leaned in to kiss him anyway
She looked down the catwalk to see Joker jogging towards them. Seven years of increasingly-advanced medical treatments, and now he was practically a marathon runner.
"She's gorgeous! Look at her, Shepard just look at her!"
She shook her head, laughing, as she disentangled from Kaidan's arms. "She is something."
He stopped beside them but didn't look away from the ship. "And EDI is in there?"
The voice came from somewhere above them. "I explained this last night, Jeff. I am the ship's navigation AI, as I understand the prototype wormhole drive better than anyone and I will be able to fully use my body when it accompanies the crew on this voyage. Due to the complexity of the SR-3, the Legion AI will handle the combat mechanisms of the ship; I also understand that his physical body will be accompanying us as well."
She paused. "Once the Normandy passes beyond the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, I, here, will no longer be able to maintain the connection but the AI on the ship and in my body will function normally. During that time, I will be both here and there, but separate. When we return, all my memories and data will re-integrate with my processes here in the Citadel, and vice versa."
"Right I was just checking."
"So am I going to get to, you know, fly much? Cause jumping from one wormhole to the next isn't exactly flying "
Shepard grinned as Kaidan's arms crossed comfortably atop her shoulders from behind and he leaned against her, his chin dropping on a forearm. "Actually, you will we're going to be making a couple of stops along the way to pick up some old friends."
This brings an end, for now at least, to this story though obviously not to the life and adventures of Graceyn Shepard. The eBook for the ME3 story, as well as the entire collection, is already available for free download see my Deviant ID on my profile page for download links.
In the future, I plan to publish a series of one-shots, taking place in the "If It Meant Living" universe and involving one or more of these characters, that may cover any number of events, large and small, between the First Contact War and the future. Anything is fair game . As for a full sequel? Time will tell. I may also write outside the IIML universe, and even outside the ME multiverse.
These stories will be published under a different (though related if IIML) title, so if you want notifications, make sure you are following me.
To everyone who has come along with me on this journey I can't thank you enough. When I began this little story, I could never have imagined how much it would affect my life, nor how many readers it would touch. I'm not done writing, not by a long shot, though I may take a small break to tend to life
And above all thank you to my best friend, editor, co-conspirator and husband - without whom this would have been nothing more than an idle fantasy in my head.