Writer and computery person. Occasional bastard.
When Traynor comes up to play chess in your cabin, she says the chessboard she got on the Citadel had a “GUI interface.”
GUI stands for Graphical User Interface. You say GUI, you don’t need another “interface” on the end. It’s like people who say “PIN number.” She’s a communications tech FFS, Sam should know better!
I should probably stop suggesting minor alterations to Mass Effect 3’s script.
Thirty Days of Writing 30/30:
beginning, accusation, restless, snowflake, haze, flame, formal, companion, move, silver, prepared, knowledge, denial, wind, order, thanks, look, summer, transformation, tremble, sunset, mad, thousand, outside, winter, diamond, letters, promise, simple, FUTURE.
Author’s note: Because we all know the Stargazer scene was crap. Also, w00t finished the 30 days! Um… what am I going to do now? Guys?
“Did all of that really happen?”
“Yeah,” Grandpa said, grunting as he clambered over the fence and helped Jack up, gently allowing him to regain his footing before letting go. “All of it. Every word.”
“Are we there yet?”
“Not far now.” Grandpa plodded onwards, keeping pace with Jack as they reached the summit of the little hill.
“How big was a Reaper?”
“Big,” Grandpa said, his voice deferring authority and mischievousness in equal measures. “You see the cliff edge, over there? The beach?”
Jack nodded, and strained his eyes to the little lighthouse at the head of the rock formation.
“If you laid one on the ground from here, it could easily stretch all the way over there.”
Jack screwed up his face trying to compute the size of these things, to imagine what one would look like here. He gave up after a few seconds. “That’s really big,” he said.
“They were,” Grandpa said, digging into his shirt pocket. “Now, have you brought your birthday present?”
Jack beamed as he withdrew it from his pocket: a small, perfectly-milled pair of palladium binoculars. An expensive birthday present for a four-year-old. His friends at school would be jealous.
“Switch them on,” Grandpa said, pressing the button on his own pair, “and look up at the sky.”
Jack pressed the eyepieces to his face, and squinted as the smears of white light resolved into dots. Stars. Little orange lines began sprouting from them, and words popped up at the other end. Labels.
“What are all the words?” Jack asked, concentrating as he tried to steady his field of view.
“The words?” Grandpa crouched and put a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “What do you think they are?”
They were funny words, too, some with funny symbols on the front of them. τ Cet. ε Aur. Betelgeuse.
“Do the stars have names?”
“Well done,” Grandpa said. “The stars have names. So do the planets.”
“Does every star have a name?”
“Not every star,” Grandpa said. “There are a lot of stars out there!”
Jack peered at one of the stars. It seemed to have an orange ring circling it, with its own little label. “I think I found a star with a planet!” he grinned.
“Lots of stars have planets, too,” Grandpa told him. “Do you know what’s special about planets?”
“People can live on them!”
“Some planets, yes.”
Jack thought for a moment. “Does every star have planets?”
“Not every star,” Grandpa said, “but any star. Any star could have planets. And it could have a new type of person on it, new friends to meet.”
“I wanna discover a planet,” Jack said, his mouth curling in concentration again as he moved to another system.
“Maybe you will, one day,” Grandpa laughed. “Now, see if you can look back at Tintagel.”
Jack trained the binoculars on the little pool of light around the town where he lived, Tintagel. Green labels flared, and a lined silhouette appeared on the eyepiece, like a giant, metallic bird. The label said SSV-2SR-4.
“Is that a starship?”
“Well done!” Grandpa said, “there’s a ship there, and it’s going to take off in a few minutes.”
It was bigger than Jack’s school—this starship was enormous! The silhouette dwarfed the little house he lived in, and it could easily have covered the lake he walked past to get to the train station on the way home every afternoon.
“Do you know what’s special about this starship?” Grandpa asked. Jack already knew.
“Mom’s inside it.”
“She is,” Grandpa said, feeling a sense of pride swelling at Jack’s intellect and his own daughter, now master of the Alliance’s pride and joy.
Of course, there was only one name this ship could bear.
Nicole was nervous. Nervous, to say the least, but pleased.
Pleased and happy. Fourteen years, god knew how many command and training courses, and a family life in the way of things, and she’d managed to cap out at N9. People had teased her in the academy that her parentage put her at a horrendous genetic advantage, but she’d worked for this.
And now, Nicole had her own ship. SSV Normandy 2SR-4. A ship she was to command off-planet in less than two minutes.
Pre-flight procedures. She couldn’t forget them, even if all she wanted to do was grasp the controls, engage the mass effect drive and laugh maniacally. She fingered the intercom and spoke with as much authority as she could muster.
“Attention all two-sierra-romeo-fower Normandy crew, this is the Captain. Lift-off in two minutes. Doors closing in one minute. Doors closing in one minute.”
Drive core primed. Board green. Midshipman at the airlock waiting to give two rings of the ship’s bell, the signal that the doors were closed and they were clear to proceed.
Don’t panic, she thought, although she didn’t bother to conceal the enormous grin on her face as she stood and leaned over the handrail, peering into the galaxy map.
“Allons-y,” she muttered, tapping her own bell control twice and sending the right-away to pilot Staley.
There was a gentle whine of an engine, and the Normandy began to move.
“Tell me another story,” Jack said, tugging at Grandpa’s shirt sleeve.
“Maybe later.” Grandpa pointed at the distant starship hangar. “The ship’s about to take off.”
“Do you think mom will be able to see me?”
“Probably not,” Grandpa smiled, “but…” he grasped Jack by the sides and hauled the boy to his shoulders, “if you wave enough she might.”
Jack began flailing wildly, not caring about his own balance. He couldn’t really see the ship—but then he could, this enormous, enormous bird rising from the town, bright lights illuminating the fuselage, bluish-purple and orange glows from the back just like in the vids and the short-frame posters, and it was loud!
The Normandy roared overhead, and Jack waved as hard as he could, shouting at the top of his little lungs.
And Jack understood, at that instant, the meaning of what his mother had always told him.
And like his mom, and his auntie Ashley, his grandma Miranda and his grandpa John, he was proud to call himself a Shepard.
“Normandy, you are clear to proceed to 100% thrust and engage FTL drives,” Admiral Moreau’s voice crackled over the comm. “It’s good to have a Shepard on the bridge of the Normandy again.”
“Likewise,” Nicole smiled.
“Good luck, Captain, and bon voyage.”
“Thank you, Locus.” Captain Nicole Shepard raised her finger over the control key. “Shepard Junior, out.”
She took a deep breath, hoped dad was looking after her son well enough, and signalled the helmsman.
There was a blinding flash, a boom and an instantaneous trail of blue across the sky of Locus as the Normandy leapt for the stars—and, in an instant, she was gone.
And the stories continue…
Thirty Days of Writing 29/30:
beginning, accusation, restless, snowflake, haze, flame, formal, companion, move, silver, prepared, knowledge, denial, wind, order, thanks, look, summer, transformation, tremble, sunset, mad, thousand, outside, winter, diamond, letters, promise, SIMPLE. future.
The recreation was imperfect, translucent, and the skin tone was wrong. It didn’t move like a human, either, nor did it show any emotion in its face or its voice.
“How long have you known?” it asked.
“Since I first saw you,” Shepard said, cocking her pistol and pointing at the hologram. “I watched Kaidan Alenko die on Virmire three years ago. You don’t forget things like that in a hurry.”
Her lungs were bleeding and she was beginning to feel faint, but she kept the gun raised at the hologram of Kaidan. It shimmered a little, momentarily.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
The hologram paused, and Shepard wondered for a moment if this was some ancient VI designed to foil her at the last hurdle.
“I am the Catalyst.”
The Catalyst. “You’re the Catalyst?”
“I am the Catalyst,” the Catalyst repeated.
“You control the Reapers?”
“I am the Reapers,” it said, “they are my solution.”
Solution. Final solution. Thoughts of Nazi concentration camps thundered through Shepard’s mind. “Your solution to what?” she demanded.
Chaos? Entropy? The Heat Death of the Universe? Shepard coughed, tasting iron. Not in the mood to discuss metaphysics.
“Get out of my way,” she spat.
The Kaidan-hologram didn’t say a word, didn’t budge. She could probably run right through it. Possibly.
“What do you want from me?” she bellowed, her voice cracking.
“You are the first organic being ever to stand on this part of the Citadel,” it said. “I am here to offer you a choice.”
Choice. Offer? “Since when did the Reapers have a concept of negotiation?”
“The Crucible has given you the power to destroy us. It can also give you the power to control us.”
Control. Like what the Illusive Man wanted. “No deal.” Shepard coughed as she said it, but she said it with finality and closed her finger tighter still on the trigger of her pistol. “I came here to destroy the Reapers. That’s what I’ll do.”
She began stepping forward, slowly, sturdily, doing her level best not to fall over. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.
“The Reapers will obey you—” the Catalyst started, and Shepard felt rage boil in her gut and bellowed.
“Look at the Illusive Man,” she yelled, gesturing at the corpse beneath them, “look at what happens to people who try to manipulate me using the people I love!”
She breathed in and out, slowly, deliberately. The Catalyst paused again, momentarily.
“I’m Commander Shepard,” she growled, tensing her finger on the trigger, “and you’ve killed people I like. Don’t play mind-games with me.”
The hologram froze, shimmered again, and momentarily appeared to divide into two. Two. Three.
Mordin. Kaidan. Tali.
It divided again, and again. Thane. Ashley. Anderson. The kid from Vancouver at the invasion.
All the people Shepard had failed to save.
“I will stop you,” she spat at the army of holograms, manifestations of the Reapers.
“If you destroy us,” the holograms said, in sync, their lips all moving at the same time, “you destroy all synthetic life with us.”
That made her stop. She kept the gun raised, but stood perfectly still.
“All synthetic life?”
“The synthesiser wave from the Crucible will destroy all life with synthetic biology,” it said, in startling unison, “including the geth, including all artificial intelligences. Even you are partly synthetic.”
Why can’t anything be simple? Shepard thought. She wanted to cry, but she was a soldier in the Alliance Navy, and she knew better. She should’ve known.
“I’m not giving up everything I’ve fought for,” she spluttered, “I came here to live, I came here to save lives. I won’t activate the Crucible.”
The Catalyst paused, as if in surprise. Almost deafened by the silence, Shepard heard a comm radio crackle.
Comm radio. It was still working after all this time.
“Normandy to Shepard, please respond.”
She chins the control, carefully. “EDI, this is Shepard.”
“I have been monitoring fleet activity. The Orizaba and the Rainier have been sunk.”
Her blood ran a few degrees chillier. The Rainier, Admiral Hackett’s flagship, and the Orizaba. Her mom was on that ship. Dammit.
“I won’t activate the Crucible,” Shepard said, again, deliberately, with as much conviction as she could muster. “I’ll find another way, and I’ll die free.”
“The paths are open—”
“Go to hell,” Shepard spat, and emptied her clip into the sea of holograms.
The Citadel rumbled, and rocked, and there was a whine and a thud as the Crucible was ejected, and began slowly falling, falling to Earth, floating.
The chant was quiet at first, but grew in intensity, and the holograms slowly began to burn brighter.
“I need evac, EDI,” Shepard mumbled into her comm—and she could already see the silhouette of the Normandy approaching, silently.
So what was making all the noise?
There was a sudden, ear-splitting roar. The ground shook.
The Normandy’s doors folded open just as the air billowed and the terrible, black figure of a Reaper rose from the horizon.
“We are Harbinger, and this station is OURS!”
“Go! Go!” Shepard bellowed, and she felt the door rise beneath her, and fell into the Normandy’s cargo hold as the ship closed up and leapt for the stars.
It was never going to be that simple.
Thirty Days of Writing 24/30:
beginning, accusation, restless, snowflake, haze, flame, formal, companion, move, silver, prepared, knowledge, denial, wind, order, thanks, look, summer, transformation, tremble, sunset, mad, thousand, OUTSIDE. winter. diamond. letters. promise. simple. future.
FHR-EL/1494—which he still calls himself, even though his memories told him to call himself Robert—has been waiting outside the Royal London Hospital for precisely forty-six minutes and twelve seconds. The hospital VI wouldn’t recognise him as a relative, and denied him entry.
I am Robert Cortez. Am I? I must be. He saw the name badge on the other man’s chest. “CORTEZ, STEVEN. ALLIANCE NAVY.”
Read it, stole a glance as he jumped from the bus and bellowed at the traffic to stop, dragging Steve to the side of the road and examining his injuries. Steve had jumped from the bus first, run from Robert just as they were pulling away from the bus stop, gone tumbling into moving traffic.
Only a grazed elbow and scraped knee. Nothing major. Why had he run? Fear? Confusion? Probably. Steve is my husband—ex-husband. Widower. That’s not something a lot of people can say.
For all the things the synthesis of organic and synthetic life has brought them, it hasn’t found a way to fix the feeling of being cold. 1494 has a personality again, an individual personality rather than a train of thought in the Grand Central Station of hivemind intelligence. He has a body, a former Husk body he was downloaded into that has, over time, slowly started tending towards an appearance he recognises as himself. His bones are now a virtually indestructible titanium, and he can search the extranet with only his own mind and a small, ear-mounted antenna.
But he wishes it had gone further. He wasn’t going to ask for a cure for a broken heart, but some mild biotic ability would be nice. Just so he could warm up cold coffee, and cool down warm beer without having to put some credits in the meter.
I am Robert Cortez. Steve Cortez was my husband.
“Steve,” he calls, following the slender figure, striding quickly from the hospital door with a dressing on the wound and heading to cross the street to the Underground station.
No response. He must have heard him.
He stops, but doesn’t look back, as if he’s averting his eyes. “Stop following me.”
“Steve, it’s me,” 1494 says, sidling deliberately into his line of sight. “It’s me, it’s… Robert.”
“Don’t you remember?”
The look on Steve’s face is stony, guarded, with hints of hope and disgust in equal measure. “Who are you?”
“I’m… I’m Robert Cortez. I was… I’m your husband.”
A twist of his lips and a gentle squint of his eyes. Confused. It’s the same look he had when he was tinkering with a bit of equipment, the look that Robert secretly enjoyed although he’d never tell Steve that.
“How do you know my husband’s name?” he demands.
“How do you think?”
“This is sick,” Steve says, pushing past and heading for the Underground station. “I haven’t got time for this, I’ve already missed my flight back to Vancouver because of you—”
1494 thinks quickly. Checks the extranet. BA-4586 LHR-YVR dep. 15:10, delayed 00:45.
“The next flight from Heathrow isn’t until ten past three, and it’s forty-five minutes late,” he calls, giving chase and managing to grab on to his arm.
“Get your hands off me—”
“Steve,” Robert pleads, his voice still a little shaky but beginning to regain touches of his old accent—his voice. “I’m Robert. I am. Trust me.”
“I don’t know who you are, but—”
Steve freezes at the sound of that old name. The cafeteria on Arcturus Station where they’d had their first proper date.
“I know you because I remember,” Robert says, slowly. “I remember how we got coffee at the café on Arcturus Station. You had it white with sugar, I had mine black. I made that… shitty, shitty old joke about taking my coffee like my men, and you laughed.”
Steve blinks, once, his jaw slacking ever so slightly in shock.
“Afterwards we just sat in the corridor, watched while the ships went past without the audio… then you disappeared for a few minutes. You came back with a rose, a red rose, god knows where you got it from… and you told me I was the most beautiful man you’d ever seen and you thought you were in love with me.”
A glint appears at the corner of Steve’s eye, blossoms into a tear, slides down the plane of his cheek. “How…?”
“And we got married,” Robert continues, “we ran away to Ferris Fields, started a new life… next thing I knew I was surrounded by giant bugs then disintegrating in a vat, then I woke up here, and for god’s sake, Steve, it’s me, and I love you and I’m so, so sorry, and—”
Steve turns, and hurriedly steps out of the way of a large-looking older man with a season ticket lit up on his omni-tool. They’d been having an argument in front of the ticket barriers.
“God,” he whispers, lifting a hand to FHR-EL/1494’s face—Robert’s face—without even realising he’s doing it. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Robert whispers softly. “I just… I was being turned into gloop one second, then I woke up in Bethnal Green as a husk.”
“I am. I’m still me, I still… I still love you.”
Steve’s eyes squeeze shut, he sucks in a breath, tears fall from his eyes, and he presses his lips to Robert’s forehead.
“I’m… I love you too. Still.” He pulls back for a moment, takes Robert’s hands, feels around his palms and Robert can sense the conflict in his mind, the confusion, the shock, the joy, the latent pain, the anger.
“Yeah.” Steve looks to the side for a moment, sees people filing into the station, a couple of disapproving glances. There are no two ways about it: ex-husks are ugly, many people are frightened by them.
“Come with me,” Steve says, grasping Robert’s left hand in his right. “I’m going to the airport, we’ve got some time. We’ll work this out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” He pays for two single tickets to Heathrow on his omni-tool and Robert leads him down to the platform. “There’s a café in the terminal that re-opened last week. We can talk there.”
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, fine, I’m fine,” Steve says, although the tears are still streaming down his face as a train comes squealing into the platform and the doors clatter open.
“Come here.” Robert ignores the dirty look from the man sat opposite as he wipes away Steve’s tears with his sleeve, kisses him on the lips, sits next to him on the train, their thighs close, their fingers interlaced.
“This train is for Heathrow Terminal Four. Calling at Liverpool Street, Farringdon, Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street, Paddington, Wormwood Scrubs, Ealing Broadway, Heathrow Central and Heathrow Terminal Four.”
Robert finds himself leaning into Steve’s chest and closing his eyes. He even still smells the same.
“I missed you,” he whispers.
“So did I,” Steve mumbles, kissing his head and still shedding tears. “You’re so beautiful.”
“Stand clear of the doors, please.”
Robert inhales his breath and tightens his grip on Steve’s hand.
I am Robert Andreas Cortez, Alliance Navy. Steve Cortez is my husband, and I’m happy to be alive.