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IIML: Beyond - Ch.2: Five Months Is A Long Time...

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If It Meant Living: Beyond - Chapter 2
“Five Months Is A Long Time…”



Title: If It Meant Living: Beyond – Chapter 2: "Five Months Is A Long Time…"
Author: Graceyn
Game: Mass Effect Trilogy
Characters/pairing: femShep/Kaidan
Disclaimer: Bioware owns all rights to Mass Effect and its characters
Content Warning: Language, Violence



                                                                                          “Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go.”  – E. E. Cummings




February 22, 2194:  Normandy SR-3 Cargo Bay

Wrex tossed items around the small room that served as a storage area adjunct to the main Cargo Bay. His hands waved about in the air, followed periodically by boxes and assorted gear.

A light chuckle came from the doorway. Wrex turned around to see Garrus leaning casually against the doorframe. “You know, this is a big ship – I’m sure Shepard has a nice, comfy room ready for you.”

Wrex snorted. “What do I want with a ‘comfy’ room? You haven’t been to Tuchanka much – and don’t think I haven’t noticed that, friend – but we don’t need your snazzy ‘comforts’ to live and live well; harsh conditions make us strong, hardy, able to – ” He visibly frowned at Garrus’ smirk. “What?”
 
“It’s good to see you too, Wrex.”

Wrex made a show of being offended for several seconds, then finally sighed heavily, his eyes rolling under their heavy lids. “You too, Garrus.  I suppose they have better food aboard this luxury liner than they did the SR-1? I mean, for all the money poured into this bucket on wheels, surely they spared a few creds for a decent chef, right?”

“So far, the food has in fact been above par for a starshipthough I can’t speak for the amino- fare of course.” He grinned, mandibles fluttering slightly. “I have to say, I’m glad you’re here, Wrex. Just like old timesand I’ve been missing the old times a bit more than usual lately. But last I heard, you were leading pretty much the entire Krogan race. They’re not going to miss you?”

Wrex tossed an empty crate backwards, Garrus easily dodging it as it sailed through the doorway. “The hell do I care – a bunch of whiny bitches and demanding complainersand don’t even get me started on the women.”

That got full-throated laughter from Garrus. “Girl trouble, Wrex? I thought you were happily married.”

He shoved a stack of crates half a meter to the right then laid out a rough rug. “As Humans like to say, I believe that’s an oxymoron.”

Garrus sucked in a deep breath, suppressing the laughter that still threatened, and adopted a more conciliatory pose. “I don’t pretend to be an expert, becausegods know that would be a liebut if you want to talk, I do have an ear.”

Wrex fiddled with the rug for another moment, then stood up and turned to Garrus. “A couple dozen kids – and gobs of sex in between – and now that she’s got a litter, Bakura says she needs some ‘space,’ some time to herself to ‘think.’ So I’m giving her some space – 160,000 light-years of it.” He hurriedly turned back to the still crowded room, shoving boxes and gear around haphazardly.  

It seemed to Garrus that by this point everything in the room had been moved at least three times. He dropped his chin to his chest; he truly was the last person in the galaxy to be giving romantic advice, to any person of any species. He decided on a somewhat safer topic, relatively speaking. “But your people still need you, don’t they? I mean, they’re thriving, they’re growinga lot. They need guidance.”

“Yeah” Wrex grabbed a bag and started pulling things out of it. “Turns out the Krogan aren’t so easily led, or governed. Goddamn insolent idiots” He sagged against the remaining crates. “The long and short of it is, I need a break or I’ll kill them all. Coincidentally enough, Bakura also needs a break. I left her in chargewell, I left Urdnot Norvack in charge, but she’ll keep him in line.”

He glanced around the room. “So here I am. Following Shepard off on some damn fool adventure to another galaxy. Why the hell not, right?”

“I think there are probably a lot of reasons ‘why the hell not’” Garrus chuckled resignedly “but that’s never stopped us before.”




February 26, 2194:  Rannoch, Perseus Veil, Tikkun System

Shepard stepped out of the shuttle as soon as it settled to the ground and hurried over to Tali, embracing her in a tight hug.
 
“It’s so good to see you again, Shepard. I know it’s only been a few months, but it seems like forever.” Tali pulled back slightly and grinned, then looked over Shepard’s shoulder. Her eyes widened. “Hello…everyone. Goodness, I hope we have enough food!”

Shepard chuckled lightly. “What can I say, you’re a popular woman – everyone wanted to see you. We almost had to bring a second shuttle.”

Tali’s gaze fell across the people with whom she had shared so much over the years; she smiled gratefully. “Thank you all; I'm honored. Welcome to our home.”  She turned and gestured for her guests to follow her.

The piazza area blended into an octagon-shaped and more intimate common space; homes branched off six of the eight sides. The open edge at the far end led to another common space, which led to another. The neighborhood slowly curved around in a series of clusters until it returned to the piazza where it started. While the Quarians had embraced a measure of private space far beyond what they had enjoyed on the Flotilla, at heart they remained a tightly-knit, communal society.

The Reegar’s house was both open and cluttered at the same time. The walls were made of wood, the floors of stone, both native to Rannoch; yet most of the furniture was similar to what one would see on a starship – metals, acrylics, nano-plastics. Windows were plentiful, most of them open; a warm, fresh breeze wafted through the rooms.

Kal was rocking the baby when they stepped inside. He looked up as the door opened and dipped his head in greeting, “Hi everybody, come on in." He met Tali halfway and both of them huddled over the bundle in his arms. “She was crying and needed a little Daddy love.” He handed her over to Tali then straightened up and smiled at his guests. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m needed in the kitchen. Please, make yourselves at home.”

Tali nuzzled her little girl for a moment, cooing softly to her; it seemed the language of babies and mothers was the same the galaxy over. Then she turned slightly, picking up her daughter’s tiny hand and waving it at them. “Everyone, this is Raela’Reegar. She’s named after her grandfatherbut thankfully she takes after her daddy. Now if you’ll excuse me a moment, I’m going to go put her back down. Be right back.”

***

James leaned against the entryway to the kitchen, watching as Kal moved expertly around the room like it was a battlefield. “Dude, you’re the cook?”

He nodded decisively. “Yes, I am. A man’s got to make himself useful to keep a lady’s interest.”

James chuckled heartily. “Well, that explains a lot then.” He went over and peeked in some of the bowls. “And you’re cooking amino- food, too? Where’d you learn to do that?”

Kal skillfully sliced up a purplish, odd-looking fruitor possibly vegetable. “Not from scratch; had some dishes delivered from the specialty gourmet store in town. But for the most part, they cook about the same.” He shrugged as he turned back to a stove-like appliance and began gently swirling a pot. “Got to make sure and keep them separate, though – wouldn’t want to accidentally send one of you guys to the hospital or anything.”

“Right” James settled onto a stool and popped a baby carrot into his mouth.  “So you enjoying being a daddy?”

“It’s the best thing ever, man” he chuckled slightly and shot James a conspiratorial grin “well, the second best thing, anyway.”

James looked over his shoulder as Steve walked into the kitchen. He quickly reached over and grabbed another stool, sliding it next to him and motioning for Steve to sit. He squeezed Steve’s shoulder then reached back onto the island and grabbed another baby carrot.

“You gotta try this; turns out Kal can cook…

***

Tali and Shepard strolled through the flourishing garden behind the house. Like many Quarians, they were taking full advantage of Rannoch’s fertile soil and growing much of their own food in their backyard.

"I’m sorry we can’t go with you, Shepard, I really am. I’d love the chance to explore another galaxy.”

“It’s okay.  We’ll miss you, but you have something much more important here right now.”

Tali nodded. “I do, I really doI never imagined she’d be so tiny and helpless and at the same time so full of life, even now. Her little suit has Geth sub-code running in it; it’s already exposing her to simulated foreign microbes and viruses. By the time she’s an adult her immune system will be so strong and hardy, she’ll be able to go anywhere in the galaxy without a suit and without worrying about infection. She’ll probably be even more resistant to infection than most people out there.” She smiled. “I know I’ve said it before; but thank you, Shepard, for the incredible gift you’ve given us.”

Shepard bit her lower lip as a grin tugged at it. She had been thanked hundreds, even thousands of times over the years; yet some meant far, far more than others. “I just forced your leaders to make one difficult choice. You’ve done all the hard work down here.”

“Yes, well, be modest all you want; I know the truth of it.” Tali elbowed her lightly in the side then bent down to check a joint in the irrigation system. She tinkered with it for a moment then nodded to herself and straightened up; they resumed their path.

“SoLegion.” Tali paused. “He’s so…odd. I mean he’s in a Geth body, and he has Geth code, but he’s not Gethnot really.”

“He’s not networked, that’s true; and he’s really much more of a traditional AI than a Geth – ” Shepard chuckled lightly “ – you should know, you wrote him. But he came from Geth software, which means he hasn’t become as ‘human,’ for lack of a better term, as EDI or even Keiji. He still thinks like a Geth.”

Is he Legion? I mean I know it was Legion’s code, but

Shepard sighed as she thought about it. “He has Legion’s earnestness and incredibly dry sense of humor, that’s for sure. Butnot really, no. In the end, I think the real Legion had the right of it: his soul did not lie within his lines of code.”

Tali nodded thoughtfully and was silent a moment, stopping to check on the health of a tall rust-colored plant. When she was satisfied, she looked over at Shepard then at the ground, her nose scrunching up and twitching. It was probably an expression she had always made when she was uncertain about something, but until recently her mask had hidden the tic from the world.

“Shepard, do you mind if I ask you something? If it’s too personal, just say so – I don’t want to pry.”

“Absolutely.”

“It’s just – Kal and I were talking about your mission the other day, and how if we could go we would go together or not at all, and it got me wonderingwhy have you and Kaidan never gotten married?”

Shepard laughed.

Tali cleared her throat nervously. “I’m sorry, I am prying. Forget – ”

“It’s fine, Tali.” Her mouth quirked up to one side. “The simplest answer is, so we could keep working together. Kaidan once said that the regs against fraternization didn’t come with an asterisk that read ‘unless you’re a genuine hero, in which case don’t worry about it’but it turns out, they kind of do. Thanks to my rather unique status – savior of the galaxy thrice over and all that – the Alliance has been willing to simply ‘overlook’ our relationship for the most part.”

She sighed somewhat wistfully. “But the regs regarding married couples are quite explicit. The couple cannot serve in the same direct chain of command, on the same starship, or on the same mission – even if they are of equal rank. Asking the Alliance to ignore those regs would eventually become too much even for me, I’m afraid.”

She smiled then, leaning down to smell a fragrant blossom in the corner of the garden. “Besides, we’ve built a life just as if we were married. We jointly own the apartment on the Citadel, the condo in Vancouver and even the place on Intai’sei; our wills leave everything to each other. Beyond that, what is there? An official record? We don’t need a file in a data server to tell us what we are or what we mean to each other.”

“Well when you put it that way” As Tali laughed lightly, she noticed that Shepard was absently twirling a ring on the fourth finger of her right hand. It was small and unadorned, made of a smooth, shimmering metal colored a silver so dark it was almost black – until the late afternoon sunlight caught it; then it reflected deep, iridescent blue and purple hues. Though stunningly beautiful, its design was so subtle that you would never notice it unless you looked right at it.

Still, she knew Shepard hadn’t worn such a ring during the pursuit of Saren nor during the The War. She started to ask about it, but stopped herself. It was obvious both what it was and that it should remain private.

Instead she merely smiled. “of course you don’t. Thank you for sharing that with me, though. Now we’d better get back inside – from the aromas coming from the house, I think Kal has dinner just about ready.”

But when they walked back inside, the first thing Tali did was glance over at Kaidan, leaning against the dining room wall talking to Adams, and note that he wore a matching band on the same finger. She grinned to herself, pleased with her little discovery.

***

The long table was filled to the brim with platters of food and packed from end to end with friends and comrades.  

Tali sat at the end nearest the kitchen, with Kal to her right. James sat next to Kal, Steve squeezed in on an extra beside him. Garrus sat next to Steve, then Liara and Keenon. Legion sat beside Keenon; they had gravitated to one another from the first time they had met and would in at least some cultures be considered ‘friends.’ Legion sat perfectly upright in his chair, the table empty in front of him, as he his head slowly turned from one end of the table to the other, then back again. Wrex sat at the end opposite Tali; Greg was on the other side of him next to Karin, then Joker and EDI. Kaidan sat next to EDI, and finally Shepard to Tali’s left completed the circle.

The conversation was lively and constant – embellished retellings of old stories, recounting of new ones, and humorous speculations about the nature of the poor, helpless aliens they were going to save. At one point a food fight nearly broke out between Garrus and Wrex when they disagreed over exactly how big Kalros had truly been.

The dinner went on well into the evening, the wine and ale flowing freely as the burnt orange rays of Rannoch’s setting sun lengthened across the room. Tali excused herself periodically to check on Raela, at one point bringing her into the dining room to wave at everyone once more before she went to bed for the night.

The stars were illuminating the night sky when Shepard finally reached over and squeezed Tali’s hand affectionately. “I’d love to stay all night, but we do have about 160,000 light-years ahead of us, so we should get going – ” she grinned and gazed down the long table  “ – after we help you clean up.”

Tali’s arched eyebrow raised. “Clean up? That’s what we have Geth for.”

Shepard’s brow furrowed as a Geth unit came around the corner. “Um, Tali, I’m not sure

Tali giggled. “I'm just kidding, Shepard. He’s here of his own free choice, and gets paid handsomely for keeping the house running smoothly.” She looked over her shoulder. “Arten, come meet Admiral Shepard.”

The Geth approached the table and bowed smoothly. “It is an honor, ma’am.”

Shepard grinned, her head shaking incredulously as she extended her hand and the Geth accepted it. “It’s very good to meet you, Arten.”

Tali suddenly jumped up. “Oh, we need a picture! Everybody hold one second.” She tapped her Omni-tool and a drone appeared in the air as she sat back down. It flew above and around the table, stopping every few seconds to capture a photo, then circled back to Tali and blinked out of existence. She tapped her Omni-tool again then looked up. “There. Now all of you have copies as well.”

She picked up her glass with one hand, grasped Kal’s with the other, and they both stood. She smiled intimately at Kal then turned to their guests. “We’d like to offer you all a toast, and a blessing of goodwill.” They raised their glasses in the air. “May the winds of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars, and may those stars guide and protect you as go bravely forth into the unknown. Keelah se’lai.”

Glasses chinked as the echo resounded through the house. “Keelah se’lai!”




March 5, 2194:  Normandy SR-3 Science Lab

“Pardon me, Dr. T’Soni, I wanted to ask you about – ” Keenon froze in the open doorway, mouth agape.

The entire right wall of the lab was lined with terminal screens; in front of them in the center a single holographic keyboard floated. Along the right half of the back wall was a tall, curved black machine; it was completely devoid of markings or other indications of its purpose. The left half of the back wall contained a floor-to-ceiling server rack. The left side of the room consisted of a variety of more traditional scientific equipment – material and tissue analyzers, incubators and clean boxes, a confocal microscope, and screens displaying readouts from the external sensors and telescopes.

Liara looked up from one of the sensor readouts, smiling slightly. “Keenon’Daal, please come in. You needed something?”

His gaze slid over the screens and to the back of the room and the plain black machine. He blinked twice, his head tilting slightly. “That’s a Multi-Nodal QEC.”

Liara frowned in surprise. “Why would you think that?”

He took several steps into the room, his eyes slowly but deliberately taking in every piece of equipment. “Because I helped design them.”  

“Oh

He turned to her. “The Normandy already has a Multi-Nodal QEC. Why would you need a second one?”

Her brow furrowed. “Well, I have to keep in contact with the Research Council, and

“I doubt staying in touch with the Research Council requires a ten million credit machine, Doctor.” His gaze fell to the server rack. “That’s more than a zettabyte worth of storage.”

“Yes, I

He glanced back over the wall of screens, then back to her. “Who are you, Dr. T’Soni?”

She cleared her throat, unaccountably flustered by the man. His luminescent eyes that were so distinctly Quarian stared straight through her, the translucent pupils pulsing slightly. The curved markings sweeping up from his brow and down from his nosebridge glowed faintly, contrasting with the deep purple of his skin. His forehead led to a gracefully-ridged crest, which led into soft, flowingnot quite cartilage, not quite hair, it was a purple so dark it could have been black. He made for a rather striking figure, she thought.

“The Research Council does not take up all of my time; I also do some work in the information business.”

He huffed a quiet laugh, his lips turning up a bit as his gaze again swept across the room. “I’ve known information brokers, Dr. T’Soni, and they never had anything like this” He looked back at her, curved eyes narrowing. His voice was suddenly hesitant, uncertain. “Are you the Shadow Broker?”

She took a deep breath, her lips pursing together. He really was quite strikingshe gave him her most mysterious smile. “Well, I could tell you, but then I’m afraid I’d have to kill you.”

He blinked in surprise, taking a half-step back and glancing sharply at the door, then at her. “I don’t think Shepard would like – ” He huffed a breath. “You’re joking

Her eyes twinkled. “Perhaps.”

His chin dropped to his chest, his shoulders shaking slightly as he chuckled to himself. Finally he looked back up at her. “So are you? The Shadow Broker?”

She turned and went over to the keyboard, typing in a few commands. “For the last eight yearsever since Shepard and I killed the previous Shadow Broker after he kidnapped a dear friend of mine.”

The wall of displays lit up in a dizzying array of data streams, video feeds and field reports streaming across them. She gazed sideways over at him. “Would you like to see how I do it? Not the actual information, of course – that’s far too secret, and dangerous – but I’d be happy to show you the technical side of things.”

A smile broke across his face as he walked to her side. “I’d love to.”




March 29, 2194:  War Room

Shepard was studying the latest sensor scans – intriguing mostly for their shocking lack of information; it turned out dark space was in fact ‘dark’ for a reason – when the door from the Conference Room opened; she glanced over. “Hey, EDI. What’s up?”

EDI stood in the entryway, staring not at the broad swath of screens displaying the latest readouts from a plethora of instruments as well as classified Council newsfeeds and reports, but rather at Shepard; she had a peculiar expression on her face.

Her voice was soft, almost a whisper. “I’ve lost it.”

Shepard’s brow furrowed in concern. “Lost what, EDI?”

“My connection. To the Relays, to the Citadel, toeverything.”

They had passed beyond the officially-recognized boundary of the Milky Way three days earlier, but EDI had thus far still been able to maintain contact with the last Relay. They had emerged from the most recent wormhole jump ten minutes ago.

Shepard smiled sympathetically, walking around the information center and over toward the steps. She stopped just short of EDI, instead leaning casually against the edge of the table then tilting her head a bit. “Are you okay?”

EDI’s shoulders straightened formally. “You need not worry, Shepard; I have complete command of all my faculties and information banks. I am fully capable of performing my duties.”

Shepard’s eyes were kind. “Of course you are, EDI – but that’s not what I asked. I asked if you were okay.”

EDI’s face contorted through a variety of expressions as she struggled to find the words for what she was feeling. She turned and began wandering slowly through the room; Shepard let her, watching her patiently.

She paused at the small viewport on the far side of the room, staring out at the blackness; it had been days since they had seen stars. “Intellectually, I know that I am everything I wasbefore. Before the Catalyst. More, even. My AI core on this Normandy is larger and more complex even without taking into account the additional storage of all the data from the Citadel. And yet

She turned away from the window, her eyes down as her gaze drifted across the floor. “And yet I feel this incredible absence, thishollowache within me, like I have lost something precious.” She blinked, her so-close-to-real face scrunching up. “I feel small, Shepard.”

Only then did Shepard cross the space between them, taking EDI’s hands into her own. “I understand. But you’re not small. You aren’t the sum of your knowledge or even your reach, EDI. You’re you; and as long as you carry within you that core self, you will be everything you need to be.”

EDI nodded at the floor, then slowly raised her chin to meet Shepard’s gaze. “I know. Truly, I do. But thank you for reminding me.”

She chuckled briefly, something of her usual spark returning to her eyes. “Shepard, you always seem to be around to remind people of their worth when they need it most The cynics say you seek only the glory, the fame, the rush of victory. But you do more with a smile, with a kind word” she looked down at their intertwined hands “with a grasp of a hand, than most do with a lifetime of platitudes and empty phrases.”

Shepard’s gaze was the one that dropped to the floor then, a rare blush coloring her cheeks. “I don’tI just want you to know that you’re okay, that’s all. I don’t want you to worry that you’re not treasured.”  

At EDI’s genuine smile Shepard’s eyes cut upward. “Do they really say that about me?”

EDI rolled her eyes teasingly. “Only the arrogant and the ignorant. Anyone who has met you knows what you really are.”

Shepard bit her lower lip even as a slight breath escaped it. “And what is that, EDI?”

EDI smiled again, her confidence seemingly restored by the act of nurturing another. “True. Above all else, Shepard, you are true.”




April 4, 2194:  Cabin A-2

Miranda glanced up from the shift schedule as Jacob leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I’m going to go down to the Armory.”

She turned back to the display as he headed for the door. “Why?”

He shrugged. “Figured I’d get a rundown on the stocks and see if there’s any weapon modifications I need to make while we’re en route.”

Her eyes narrowed at the display; she made an adjustment to move Anders to evenings – the woman was not a morning person. “You should just leave it to Major Vega and Lieutenant Cortez; they both know more about guns than you do.”

He stared at the door. “Okay then, Personnel Administrator Lawson, where do you think my talents would be more appropriately utilized?”

She raised an eyebrow, still not turning from her display. “Can’t think of anywhere at the momentthe fact is, unless we’re in combat, I don’t think there’s much for you to do.”

There was silence for a moment; when Jacob spoke, his voice was low and soft. “Why do you do that?”

She finally turned away from the display and looked over at him. “Do what?”

“Degrade me; make me feel…insignificant.”

She frowned in puzzlement. “I wasn’t degrading you; I was simply stating facts. Major Vega and Lieutenant Cortez both have more experience with Alliance weaponry in general and Shepard’s preferences in particular than you do. Engineering is already overstaffed with experts – and you aren’t an expert in engineering; Liara won’t let anyone except Shepard and Keenon anywhere near the Science Lab, but there’s really nothing you could contribute there either.”  

Her eyes narrowed slightly as she made an attempt to choose her words carefully. “You’re a very good soldier, Jacob, but that’s what you are. A soldier.”

He closed his eyes, sighing heavily. “Don’t you think I know that? You don’t have to be cruel about it.”

She stood, arms crossing over her chest. “The truth isn’t cruel, Jacob; it’s simply the truth. I don’t understand what your problem is.”

“My problem? My problem is that my girlfriend has the emotional sensitivity of a grapefruit.”

She huffed a bitter laugh. “Oh, you want me to be sensitive now? Did I hurt your fragile little feelings? I’m sorry” She stared at him, her gaze hard and cold. “You’ve known me for, what, twelve years? Are you just now figuring out that I prefer the truth and don’t mince words on niceties? Because if you are

He shook his head incredulously. “Oh, believe me, I'm quite well aware of that. I guess I just thought you might, I don’t know, grow as a person? People do that, you know – I’m referring to ‘people’ here, of course, so – ”

“Get out.”

“Gladly.” He turned and stormed out the door.

***

April 5, 2194:  Cabin A-2

Miranda rolled over and looked at the clock. 01:36.  

Lovely.

She groaned, dragging a hand down her face. All she had to do was go to sleep – it couldn’t be that hard  

She pulled the covers up to her chin. The bed was too coldthat was it. No human could be expected to sleep in such chilly environs.

Finally she threw the covers back and stood, grabbing her white silk robe and securing it around her waist. She knew where he would be, of course – the same place he had been the last time they had argued.

***

Starboard Lounge

He didn’t look up when she came in. He was stretched out in the lounge chair in the corner, studying a holo-display. “What do you want, Miranda?”

She cleared her throat. “I came to apologize.”

His mouth twitched. “Go ahead.”

Her shoulders straightened and her chin lifted. “I may have beenunduly harsh in my word choice this morning. I should have thought more carefully and been moreunderstanding of your position.”

“I see.” He shut down the display. “Is that all?”

She frowned instinctively. “Isn’t that enough?”

His chin dropped wearily to his chest.

“Look, will you just come upstairs?”

“I don’t see why. Nothing has changed.”

Her nose wrinkled up, for just a split-second giving her an impish look that he had always secretly loved. “I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know what else to say. Now, please, just come upstairs with me.”

He gazed at her evenly. “Why?”

She stared at the floor. “Because the bed’s cold.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle, grinning slightly. “Because the bed’s cold?”

“Yes!” Her eyes flew up to him. “I can’t sleep when the bed’s so cold” She exhaled softly, giving him a resigned half-smile. “I can’t sleep when you’re not in it

He knew that nothing was fixed; nothing had changed. He knew that inevitably they would be here again in a day or a week or if they were lucky, a month. But when she stood there, her hair all disheveled and not at all perfect, her beautiful blue eyes all drowsy and softhe simply couldn’t tell her no.

He stood up and crossed over to her, reaching up and tenderly brushing a loose lock of hair over her shoulder. He smiled at her, his hand lingering in her hair. “Okay, Miranda.”




April 12, 2194:  Cabin A-1

“I just don’t know if I can – ” Kasumi broke off, looking up from the couch as Joker walked in.

“Hi, ladies. I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” He gestured toward the door. “I can head back out

Kasumi smiled as she stood. “Don’t be silly. We were just chatting.” She looked back toward the couch. “Thank you, EDI. I appreciate it.”

EDI smiled. “Any time, Kasumi. I mean it.”

Joker nodded at Kasumi as she passed him on the way out, then collapsed onto the couch next to EDI. "What were you gals chatting about?"

"I’m not sure I should say anythingI believe it was meant to be in confidence."

"You know I've gotten a lot better about keeping my mouth shutbut it’s cool. None of my business."

Her brow furrowed. "I find I want – maybe need – to talk about it, though.” She looked over at him plaintively. “You will keep it between us, won’t you?”

He nodded quickly. “Of course. I promise.”

“Thank you.” She exhaled slowly. “Kasumi hasconcernsabout Keiji. Conflicting emotions.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? I thought they were, you know, fated. Meant to be and all.”

EDI smiled sadly. “According to her, he isnot who he was. Not quite. He's very close, but of course she would see any difference.”

"It’s been like five years – she’s just now figuring this out?”

“No. She's struggled with it for some time. At first he was just an AI, and she spent her time trying to help him becomehimself. But his personality has developed on its own path. And now she's torn between trying to love the man he is and simply wanting the man he was."

Joker blinked a few times. "Wow. Kasumi came to you to talk about love?"

EDI rolled her eyes at him. "She thought I might have a uniquely relevant perspective."

He laughed lightly. "Yeah, okay, I can see that. So did she want you to try to reprogram him or something?"

"No, it is far too late for that. Besides, what would I program? When we built him, we were working with incomplete information. The memories of his last five years of life, his DNA, and Kasumi's knowledge and memories. That is a lot, but it is not everything that a person is. She knew this at the time and accepts responsibility, butwell, she is sad."

He propped his feet up on the small table, leaning back against the cushion thoughtfully. “So is it that he’s not real? Not…alive? I mean, did you maybe not do it right?”

EDI’s shoulders straightened. “Excuse me, Jeff, are you questioning my capabilities?”

His head shook furiously. “Nuh-uh. Nope. No way.”

Her lips curled up mischievously. “I didn’t think so. To answer your question – yes, I believe he is alive. I hope he is. Though, ‘life’ is such a curious thing. So illusive, so ephemeralwhat is a soul, after all? I have within me the knowledge of civilizations spanning thousands of millennia, yet none of them ever found the answer. It may be that life arises, when it does, spontaneously and serendipitously – and that we simply don't yet know how to make a person, whole and living.”

He leaned in close and dropped his forehead to hers, a smile pulling at his lips. “You’re getting a little deep for me, honey

She pulled his omnipresent hat off so she could run her fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry, Jeff. But you did want to know.”

He chuckled as he leaned the rest of the way in and kissed her. “I did. I think I understand what you’re sayingbut you’re a person. You’re alive.”

She nodded against him. “I existed, but was not alive – yet now I am. What made the difference? And even ifI’m not the same as Keiji. There was no ‘me’ before there was a ‘me'; there is nothing to compare me to. If there were, perhaps you would find melacking.”

“Now that, I highly doubt.” He shifted his weight so that she was leaning back against the armrest, him halfway on top of her. “So what did you tell her?”

EDI adjusted her body to be more comfortable in their new position. "I told her that only she could know what was right; only she could choose her path forward. I saidI said what I thought Shepard would have said. I told her that her life was her own." She looked up at him. “That was the right thing to say, wasn’t it, Jeff?”

He huffed a laugh as he closed the remaining distance. “I have no idea




April 20, 2194:  Cockpit

“Holy shit.”

Joker leaned back in his chair as they finished emerging from the wormhole. He wasn’t easily impressed by most things, or really anything, butwow.

He tapped his comm without averting his eyes from the sight before him. “Shepard, you’re going to want to get up here. Probably want to bring some friends, too.”

There was a brief pause before she responded. “Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. You just really want to be here right about now.”

Another pause. “Okay…on the way.”

He crossed his arms behind his head, kicked his feet up, and gazed out the large viewports that surrounded so much of the cockpit that he could often imagine it was just him and space – and EDI, of course – on this journey.

Thirty seconds later Shepard jogged up the CIC and into the cockpit, Garrus, Kasumi and Keiji trailing behind her. She slowed to a stop a meter behind his chair, eyes widening in wonder.

Kasumi whistled as she came to a rest beside Shepard. “Well you don’t see that every day.” She smiled as Keiji’s arms encircled her waist, his chin resting atop her head.

They had officially “left” the Milky Way more than three weeks earlier, but if they were to turn around they would still see its faint glow. Ahead of them, though

Kasumi tilted her head back to look up at Keiji. “Do you think it’s beautiful, Keiji?”

He kissed her hair. “Of course it’s beautiful.”

Shepard couldn’t help but grin like a schoolgirl. They were the first people to ever see this, not through a telescope but with their own, pure eyes. “EDI, override all the screens on the ship with this picture for the next few minutes, please.”

"Of course, Shepard.” Several gasps could be heard from the CIC almost immediately; it wasn’t long before the cockpit became increasingly crowded.

Shepard didn’t notice the others; she stepped forward, her hand drifting reverently over the glass of the nearest viewport. “I’m going outside.”

Joker raised an eyebrow. “Um, outside?”

She quirked a grin. “Yes, outside. Space. You know – I put on my suit and my helmet and my magboots, you depressurize the airlock, and I go outside.”  She glanced around. “Anyone else in?”

Kasumi disentangled from Keiji’s arms. “Hell, yes.”

Liara came over the comm. “Wait for me, please!”

Suddenly Kaidan was behind her, his hand resting lightly on her waist; she turned around to find him smiling affectionately, his eyes twinkling. “Why not?”

Ten minutes later they stood atop the Normandy’s nose, nothing but suits separating them from the void. No one spoke, because no words would ever suffice.

Three-fourths of the panorama was a sky darker than black. Dark space, quite literally. But splitting the blackness and stretching as far as the eye could see was an edge-on view of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The rim was a dark, dusky brown, clogged thick with systems and planets and stars and nebula. Hints of color could be glimpsed as nebula expanded beyond its bounds. The rim wasn’t uniformly horizontal; it gently curved, ripples thousands of light-years in length giving it the appearance of being buffeted by a light wind. Stars sparkled along the edges through wispy cloud-like clumps of interstellar gases.

The rim was backlit by a golden glow that grew to a fiery inferno in the center, the galactic core blazing with the light of thousands of stars being forever consumed by the massive black hole at its center. Though intellectually Shepard knew the core made up only a small portion of the galaxy, it looked as though it would surely consume everything in fire any minute now.

She exhaled softly. She had seen many beautiful sights in her life – far more than most people. From the arms of the Citadel to the rich colors of Terra Nova as it loomed above her to the stars welcoming her as she fellthe sparkling lights of towering cities below her and the shimmering moonlight over midnight oceansthe soft purple and brilliant swirling gold of the Perseus Veilthe towering, snow-capped mountains of British Columbia and the frozen expanses of Klensai

She had never seen anything like this.

She squeezed Kaidan’s hand as he stood beside her. This was what her life was about. This was what made the struggles, the pain, the loss worth it. This was what she fought for.

This was her reward.
Journal post about "Beyond": [link]

Ship Manifest: [link]
Dossiers of the new characters: [link]
SR-3 Layout: [link]
Cover Art: [link]

Companion art piece #1, "The Gift": [link]
Companion art piece #2, "Large Magellanic Cloud": [link]

Inspirations for the view of LMC: "The Cosmic Path" by Nuukeer ([link] and "Toward Enlightenment" by Phoenix-06 ([link]. These are amazing artists; you should definitely check them out.

My favorite visualizations of Quarians; I based the description of Keenon on an amalgamation of these: [link], [link] and [link].

***

First - Ch. 1 "Quantum Signals, Old Mysteries, and New Stars" -> [link]
Ch. 2 "Five Months Is A Long Time..." -> Viewing
Next - Ch. 3 "...On A Ship With Nothing To Do" -> [link]

***

"If It Meant Living" starts here, with "Chapter 1 -> Beginnings": [link]
And ends here, with "Chapter 72: The Cycle Ends" -> [link]

"Tales" starts here -> [link]
Comments9
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artyom2013's avatar
In honor of the Normandy team, JOIN ME IN SONG! Их солдатушки, бравы ребятушки- раз, два три, четыре! Раз, два, три, четыре! Их солдатушки, бравы ребятушки- раз, два, три четрые! Раз, два, три!

(Ih soldatushki, bravy rebjatushki- raz, dva tri, chetyre! Raz, dva, tri, chetyre! Ih soldatushki, bravy rebjatushki- raz, dva, tri chetrye! Raz, dva, tri!)
artyom2013's avatar
Ha! A day in the metros or "The Zone" and wrex would feel like he's home! although he wouldn't be able to breath in the ruins of Moscow, or parts of Chernobyl, but they make gas masks for a reason!
sarahbear79's avatar
I started snorting with laughter and had to bite down on my finger while giggling when I read the bit with Wrex and Garrus nearly starting a food fight. Love it, love it, love it.
Doing great work! What would I do without you to fill in the void after the games...?
GSJennsen's avatar
What would "I" do without writing, and you guys, to fill in the void after the games? I don't want to think about the final single-player DLC coming out soon :cries:. I want to write an original sci-fi novel after Beyond, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to give these characters up...
sarahbear79's avatar
I think you definitely should write a book. The characters will always be there in your heart, though you could always morph a few in the new story to be a little like them ;)
GSJennsen's avatar
That's absurd! The beautiful, headstrong heroine of my intense, dramatic sci-fi space opera epic would never bear any resemblance to Graceyn Shepard... :lmao: :floating:

Well thank you :). It's people saying things like that that make me think maybe I could. Later ;)
Rama-Kay's avatar
it's true that the Normandy is a love-ship!! :XD: :iconlolowlplz:
awesome chapter!!
GSJennsen's avatar
:: glances at Chapter 3 :: Yes, it is ;)
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