Big Goddamn Hero
by Kyle B. Stiff
If you think the Indoctrination Theory is too dark to be true, check out what would happen if a player chose Control at the end of Mass Effect 3…
Zaeed Massani and Jack waited on a rooftop somewhere on the outskirts of Nos Astra, playground of the rich and capital city of the asari world of Illium. Zaeed’s old armor was replaced by a rough yellow suit; he was trying to lay low, and not many people went around sporting guns and heavy armor these days. Jack, of course, still looked like the hard bitch he remembered from so long ago.
A lot’s gone down since we lost Shepard, he thought. Wouldn’t mind trading this worn-out suit for a set of armor and a decent rifle… but I guess some battles don’t end with one poor son of a bitch bleeding out while another guy picks his pockets for thermal clips.
He watched Jack. He could tell she was nervous about this meeting. There was no telling what it would do to the rebellion. He could see that Jack was staring at a giant shepherd unit working in the distance. The massive lobster was constructing a building while organics crawled around like ants, pretending they were helping and fooling only themselves. Jack worked up a wad of phlegm and spit over the side of the building. Nobody needed to remind her that it was only three years ago that the helpful shepherd units were once called reapers.
“What are you lookin’ at?” Jack said, turning to him suddenly.
Woken from his daydreaming and a little embarrassed, Zaeed saved himself by nodding behind her. “That,” he said. The black silhouette of a lobster was descending toward them.
“Here she comes,” said Jack. “Punctual bitch.”
The reaper descended until it drew level with them. Even after all the years of “assistance” they’d provided, they were no less terrifying to Zaeed. Unlike most of the sheep in the galaxy who believed everything they heard in the official news outlets, he knew the truth about these monsters.
Six blue eyes regarded them with cold, piercing indifference.
“Shepard,” said Zaeed. “And here we thought you’d be too busy to show up. We were just reminiscing about the good ol’ days.”
“WE REMEMBER,” said the reaper. The sound was a mockery of the human voice, a strong feminine tone with too many layers of mechanical hissing and an echo reverberating straight out of the black heart of Hell. “WE REMEMBER OUR FRIENDSHIP. WE REMEMBER HOW YOU HELPED US BRING ORDER TO THE CHAOS.”
Before Zaeed could stop her, Jack pointed her finger at the steel behemoth and shouted, “That’s not what we fought for! Can’t you see that you’ve… that you’ve changed? You sound like one of them!”
“NO,” said the reaper. “THE ENEMY HAS BEEN ERASED. HARBINGER HAS BEEN ERASED. WE ARE THE SHEPHERD. WE WILL REBUILD WHAT WAS LOST. WE WILL CREATE A FUTURE WITH LIMITLESS POSSIBILITIES.”
Zaeed put a hand on Jack’s shoulder to keep her from flying off the handle. He ignored the static shock that burned his fingers; he knew that one blast from the reaper could annihilate them both. The irony of the galaxy’s biggest hard-ass mercenary acting as a diplomat was not lost on him.
“That’s why we wanted to have a word with you,” said Zaeed. “We’re grateful that you rebuilt the mass relays… ah, Shepard. And we’re glad that you helped rebuild what the reapers destroyed. But don’t you think it’s time you took a break?” The reaper said nothing, so Zaeed continued. “Don’t you think it’s time that the people of the galaxy ran their own affairs for a while?”
“THERE IS STILL SO MUCH TO BE DONE. THE GREAT WORK HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN. THE MANY ARE NOT READY TO GOVERN THEMSELVES.”
Zaeed tried to keep the anger from his voice. “But who are you to-”
“AND WHO ARE YOU TO COMMAND THE SHEPHERD?” The reaper’s voice was sharp now, full of weight and authority. Zaeed winced, because it sounded just like the vid he’d seen of the Mylain Massacre on Tuchanka, when clan Ganar tried to build on lands already claimed by Urdnot. The “shepherds” had already declared war illegal but, not trusting krogans to manage their own affairs, they had descended on clan Ganar in force and destroyed them all. Urdnot was being quiet about the incident and there was nothing about it in any of the official news networks. “THE SHEPHERD ONLY WANTS TO HELP YOU. WE WILL PROTECT YOU FROM YOURSELVES… EVEN AS YOU PLOT AGAINST US. I KNOW OF YOUR REBELLION, ZAEED MASSANI.”
Zaeed and Jack exchanged a look. There it was, then. Shepard knew. But he and Jack had already agreed that they would lay it all out during this meeting with Shepard, if they had to. It wasn’t like the rebellion was doing a damned bit of good anyway. Something had to change – and that’s why they’d contacted Shepard for this meeting.
“We figured you knew,” said Zaeed. “You’ve killed and captured enough dissidents and hacked enough networks to find out something about us.” Zaeed laughed suddenly, then added, “No hard feelings, eh, Shep?”
The reaper only stared back with cold, soulless eyes.
“Here’s the thing,” said Jack, suddenly stepping forward. “You want to help us? Fine. But not like you’re doing now. It’s not working. You need proof? Just look at scientific development in the past year.”
“WE GIVE THE MANY ANYTHING THEY NEED.”
“But that’s just it! Even the salarians have practically stopped making anything on their own. The freaking salarians, Shepard! Shit, if anybody wants a better engine, a new vaccine, a stock market analysis program, or whatever – you just give it to them!”
“WE GIVE THE MANY ANYTHING THEY NEED.”
“Which is turning us into your goddamn pets! Don’t you see that we have to figure this shit out on our own? There’s even religions sprouting up about you. Doesn’t that make you sick?” The reaper said nothing. “You call yourself The Shepherd, and you call us ‘the many’, but what you really mean is ‘sheep’. That’s what we are to you. And anyone who doesn’t go along with your idea about how things should be just gets murd-”
“WE HAVE DONE THESE THINGS ONLY TO PROTECT YOU FROM YOURSELVES.”
Zaeed shook his head. “I’m no great thinker, Shepard, but anyone with two eyes and a brain can see that you’re turning us into less than we were before.”
“WE HAVE TURNED CHAOS INTO-”
“You’re talking in circles, Shep. We’re not getting anywhere. Come on, Jack. Let’s get out of here.”
“WHERE WILL YOU GO?”
It was impossible to gauge a robot’s voice for emotional content, but Zaeed was almost convinced that there was an edge of menace in the reaper’s flat tone. Zaeed hid his concern with a false smile, then said, “Guess we’ll head back to our big rebel headquarters, you know? We’ll sit in a dark room and plan some more evil shit to foul up your ‘great work’. Not that we’d tell you where that is.”
“DO NOT BOTHER RETURNING TO OMEGA. ARIA HAS BEEN NEUTRALIZED.”
A cold finger snaked its way up Zaeed’s spine. If Shepard knew about Aria leading the rebellion, then…
“What did you just say?” said Jack, clenching her hands into fists.
“I AGREED TO THIS MEETING TO BRING YOU SAFELY AWAY FROM THE OTHERS. I KNOW OF THE REBELLION. THAT THREAT HAS NOW BEEN NEUTRALIZED.”
“What did you do to Omega?!”
“OMEGA HAS BEEN NEUTRALIZED. IT NO LONGER EXISTS.”
Zaeed’s thoughts spun out of control. Before he could ask about all of the innocent civilians who lived there, Jack lit up like a bolt of lightning and shouted, “God damn you, you bitch!”
“Jennifer, don’t!” said Zaeed, but he was thrown back by the superheated force of Jack’s biotic powers. He hit the ground while Jack blasted the reaper with everything she had – which was considerably more than Zaeed thought she was ever capable of. He’d killed enough biotics in his time to know the difference between a singularity and a barrier and a warp field, but the power radiating from Jack was like something out a nightmare. Hellish arcs of blinding light leaped from her to the reaper, melting parts of the roof, blowing out the reaper’s blue eyes, and shrieking like a dozen banshees locked in a batarian torture chamber. Zaeed crawled away from the currents of rage and covered his eyes. He screamed Jack’s name over and over, but he couldn’t even hear himself over the sound of molecules frying and flashing out of existence.
The storm ended only a minute later. Zaeed coughed; his suit was smoking and he was sure his hair was cooked black and hard on one side. Jack stood on one knee. The reaper’s carapace was blackened and charred, but was otherwise unharmed. One blue eye gazed down at Jack.
“WE WILL NOT HARM YOU,” the reaper said finally. “WE REMEMBER OUR OLD FRIENDSHIP.”
With that, the monster floated into the sky. They watched until it was only a small black mote far overhead.
Zaeed watched Jack, and he could tell that she was crying quietly. Steam poured from her shoulders. In that moment, he knew that she truly was the most powerful biotic that humanity had to offer. In an age when sneaking a gun through a heavily defended mass relay was next to impossible, she really was the best chance that any of them had of ever breaking free from these monsters.
Zaeed looked down at his burnt hands, and he knew that there was little he could do. With Aria dead and Omega gone, the old rebellion was over. The sentient races were being marched toward a clean, bright, shining slaughterhouse – or, at best, a petting zoo. He remembered his old retirement plan. The best idea he could come up with to end his career of killing other men like himself was to pack a ship full of explosives and blow himself up. He’d been fooling himself by thinking he could help people with their pitiful rebellion. Then he remembered the location of a reaper stronghold, a place where they made more of their kind, and he smiled inside.
Sorry, kid, he thought as he looked at Jack. I know you feel like people have always been either abandoning you or using you. But if I stuck around, I’d just be holding you back. Looks like I better find a new ship, dust off my old armor, hold Jessie in my lap one last time… then I’ll take a shot of the most expensive batarian rotgut I can get my hands on and fly a metric fuck-ton of explosives straight into that reaper factory.
I’ll see if I can get Joker to bring the Normandy into Nos Astra. I might have to fold the kid in half, but the Normandy’s my best chance of getting there undetected.
Sorry, Jack. I’ve got to leave you now. I’m not one for writing long, weepy goodbye letters. Joker’s hospital bill will have to do.
Hey readers, if you liked this post then you should take a look at my outline for a game that I call Mass Effect 4: Indoctrination Theory. If you want to see some more Mass Effect fan fiction, then you should check out this piece based on the Destroy ending, which is called The Crush: Shepard’s Final Mission, or another piece based on the Synthesis ending, which is called The Ghost.
You also might want to take a look at some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.