It had been several weeks since the Second Battle of Earth, where the Crucible had been escorted to the waiting Citadel. The battle had been bloody and hard-fought but ultimately victorious, as the Crucible had armed, and eventually fired a green-white blast of energy, following which the Reapers had disengaged.
It felt like anything but a victory to Ashley Williams.
She could still see the look of abject horror on James Shepard’s face as the destroyed Mako hurled toward her, the relief when he found her crouched on the other side, and the stony determination when he ordered her to evac while he went on alone.
She should have gone with him, orders be damned.
Now here she was, stranded on some distant, uncharted world, with everyone around her glowing green. She’d first noticed it when they’d all exited the ship following the crash-landing. Everything with a spark of life in it glowed green, even EDI. When Joker had gotten in contact with Admiral Hackett, he’d learned that the green glow was, as far as they could tell, everywhere.
Ashley stared at the bottle in her hand. Her distorted reflection and now-green eyes stared back at her.
The colour of Shepard’s real eyes. He’d once commented that if they mixed her chocolate brown with his, they’d get “mint chocolate”. It was a lame joke but she’d still laughed. Now she felt like she’d never laugh again.
She’d sworn off heavy drinking when Shepard had found her passed out on the observation room floor, but now, she wanted nothing more than to drown her sorrows. As she poured herself another shot, she overheard one of the bridge crew asking an engineer how long it would be before the Normandy would be up and running again. The engineer’s response was muffled. Ashley didn’t care.
Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau sat in the mess hall picking at his food. EDI sat next to him, watching, silent. After a few moments, Joker sighed and pushed himself back.
“Joker, what is it?” EDI asked in a concerned voice.
Joker looked at the floor for a moment.
“It’s Ashley. She’s taking the loss of Shepard hard,” he said quietly. They’d received word over the QEC several days ago that they’d located Shepard’s body. Ashley had seemed OK then, she’d even posted Shepard’s name on the memorial wall.
Ashley had not been out of her current habitat in the port lounge for anything other than bathroom breaks and the occasional meal since. She hadn’t spoken a word to anyone, either.
“Do you think I should go talk to her?” EDI asked. Since the Crucible had fired its life-altering beam, EDI seemed to have gained a clearer understanding of human emotions, though neither she nor Joker could explain how. Some by-product of that huge energy wave, they figured.
Joker shook his head. “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. You’ll just remind her of everything she lost.”
“But somebody should. Maybe Doctor Chakwas?”
Joker thought for a moment. “Maybe. I’ll go ask her. She wouldn’t be a walking, talking reminder, in any case.”
EDI stood and headed towards the elevator, taking it to the command deck. Joker lingered for a moment then headed for the infirmary.
Several days later, Joker stood in front of the QEC’s holographic display, waiting as Traynor fiddled with the controls on the other side of the room. As the device shimmered to life, Joker looked up to the blue-white image of Admiral Hackett, before snapping a salute.
“Flight Lieutenant,” Hackett said, returning the salute.
“Admiral. We’ve just received word from our engineers that we’re back up and running. Fusion plant and Mass Effect core check out and are ready to go, sir.”
“Excellent, Mr. Moreau. I’d like you back on Earth as soon as possible. I think Shepard would like his team present for his memorial, don’t you?”
Hackett frowned for a moment.
“Mr. Moreau, where is Lieutenant Commander Williams? She is the ranking officer and should be in command of the Normandy now. Your last three communiqués have not mentioned her at all.”
Joker and Traynor exchanged an uneasy glance before he replied.
“Sir, the Lieutenant Commander is… unavailable right now.”
Hackett’s frown deepened. “I see. I gather that she would not be able to say a few words at the memorial?”
Hackett sighed. “Very well. Bring the Normandy home, Mr. Moreau. We’ll be waiting for you. Hackett out.”
The holo display went dead and Joker breathed a sigh of relief, glad that the Admiral had not questioned him about Ashley TOO much. On the other hand, it seemed like the Admiral knew more than he let on. Maybe it was just an uncanny intuition.
As they approached Earth, Ashley stared out the window at the looming hull of the Citadel. Somewhere on there, was where Shepard had died. Reapers dotted the surface of the massive space station, tending to the repairs. More Reapers were cleaning up the debris from destroyed ships.
That they were fixing everything and cleaning everything up didn’t help ease the cold fear Ashley still felt around them.
Chakwas had spoken with her earlier, though Ashley felt no better. It didn’t bring Shepard back. She didn’t think anything ever would. What had started out as Shepard being her first commanding officer to see past her family name, quickly became friendship and from there, lovers. When she’d lost Shepard a few months after the Battle of the Citadel, she’d been devastated, narrowly avoiding the magic bottle, before collecting herself and moving on, or at least trying to.
Two years later, she got the shock of her life when she found out Shepard was not only alive but working for the enemy. Or so she thought then. It wasn’t until she rejoined his squad that she fully accepted that Shepard HAD been working for the enemy, but only to further his own goals, and had deserted Cerberus the moment his mission to stop the Collectors had been complete. He’d even given a Shepard-style parting gift to the Illusive Man in the form of blowing up the Collector Base.
And during all that time, Shepard had not given up on her, accepting her back into his life without hesitation, even after she’d held him at gunpoint, before realizing the truth behind Udina. They grew closer than ever after that.
Now it was all gone, and once again, Ashley was lost. She didn’t know how she would make it through the memorial service, which was to be held in the city Shepard had grown up in before joining the Alliance. A city Shepard had once promised to show her but would never be able to. He’d described it as “Outer Space meets the Old West”. Yee-haw.
Until the Crucible had fired its life-altering blast of energy, EDI had never completely understood why humans had… paraded… the bodies of their fallen soldiers through the streets to their grave. At least, that’s what it seemed to an outsider. Since that day, she understood it to be an honour, a way for other people to express their support and to honor the fallen soldier, as he made his final journey.
These thoughts rolled through EDI’s mind as she sat in the black-painted skycar, one of many in the procession that would take Shepard’s body from the Calgary Spaceport to his final resting place in Memorial Park.
All along the route, people – humans, geth, and aliens alike – stood on balconies and rooftops. Some were waving, some saluting, some just standing and staring. Police, emergency workers, soldiers, and firefighters lined the motorway, saluting as the convoy flew past.
EDI had done her research. Memorial Park was located in the city’s core, along the north bank of the river that ran through the area. The original park had been established with trees planted to honour the first major war in the 20th century, many of which still stood. A roadway for automobiles had once travelled through the area, but had been demolished and converted to more parkland since the advent of skycars.
As they pulled up to the memorial plaza and parked, EDI expected the convoy to be swarmed by well-wishers, but instead everyone stood a respectable distance away, in almost complete silence. A contingent of eight soldiers, four on each side, slowly removed the casket from the hearse, and marched it to the new Shepard Memorial, where he would be buried.
To say there wasn’t a dry eye would be putting it mildly, especially for the members of Shepard’s team. Ashley, strong as she tried to be, was having a hard time not completely breaking down. EDI had a devastated expression on her face, Joker, Javik and Vega looked on with blank expressions, Steve Cortez was struggling to remain composed, Liara had tears streaming down her face, and Tali was in hysterics.
Admiral Hackett had given a speech about Shepard’s pre-service and service history, and then had invited one of Shepard’s inner circle to talk about the last 3 years. Originally, Hackett had requested that Ashley do it, but she’d felt that she’d be in no state to speak publicly, so she’d deferred to Garrus.
Though not accustomed to human military practices and funerals, Garrus had delivered spectacularly. He’d focused on how much of a mentor, leader and friend Shepard had been to the people Ashley had once jokingly referred to as his “inner circle”. While he touched on the events surrounding the missions – Sovereign, the Collectors, and the actual invasion of the galaxy – he presented it in a way that highlighted how much Shepard had meant to all of them.
As Garrus left the podium, there was silence for a few seconds before a voice barked out an order.
“Soldiers! ATTENTION! Salute your fallen comrade!” Everyone present stood, and snapped off a sharp salute.
“Contingent! Present arms!”
A squad of seven soldiers snapped their funeral-service rifles into place, as a lone bagpiper played the mournful notes of Amazing Grace. Ashley had found a mention of that hymn in a note Shepard had written at some point, with the phrase that it had “always been his favourite hymn. I wonder if Ashley knows that it was written as a poem first?”
The eight soldiers that had borne the casket from the hearse to its final resting place began folding the Systems Alliance flag in precise fashion while everyone watched. When they were done, they handed the flag to the Admiral, who in turn presented it to the crew of the Normandy. Ashley formally accepted the flag, still struggling emotionally.
The NCO began barking more orders.
The rifle squad aimed their weapons and fired a volley over the casket and out over the river. The sound echoed sharply from the nearby skyscrapers and trees, creating the effect that the sound continued long after the initial report.
The echoes continued, along with the turmoil in her heart.
The sound and echoes faded as the casket was lowered into the ground. It did nothing to fill the emptiness Ashley was feeling though, as she stared off into nothingness. It barely even registered when the funeral proceedings started to break up, with Ashley following the Normandy team numbly.
Once back on board the ship, Ashley returned to her quarters and her brooding, wondering how a future so promising to others could be so bleak to her. This was the second time she’d lost Shepard and now he was gone forever. Alcohol could only dull the pain so much…
Back aboard the Normandy, Doctor Chakwas stood in the mess hall, watching as the ship’s cook slapped some of the unknown meal on to her tray.
The funeral had been hard on all of them, but she’d been particularly touched by the representatives of each species that had come up to the Alliance afterward with their own forms of honour and support.
Wrex had started the ball rolling by announcing to the crowd that the given name Shepard would forever mean “Hero” to worthy Krogan. The Quarians would use the title “vas Normandy,” once hung on Tali as a badge of shame, as a title of great honour. The Turians, Asari, Salarians, and other species also pledged their own memoirs, but it was the Geth who had made the most unique decision.
The Geth pledged that one Prime unit would always be standing guard over Shepard’s memorial on Earth.
It just went to show what Shepard had truly done in uniting the galaxy. Each species wanted to honour Shepard in their own way. It was touching really.
She was just sitting down at the table across from Joker and EDI, when Traynor came running in from the starboard observation deck. In her haste, she tripped over one of the wayward power cables that ran along the deck since the refit, falling flat on her panicked face.
As Traynor picked herself up, she began yelling that Chakwas needed to go to the observation deck “quick.”
“It’s Ashley,” Traynor blurted in a horrified tone when questioned by Joker as to what was going on.
I know, I know, it’s rotten of me to give you a cliffhanger ending. I haven’t decided whether I’ll write any sequels or further chapters though. I’ve left it fairly open, just in case 😉
I realize the military funeral may not be exactly what a real one would be. Just pretend that the Alliance does things a little bit differently 🙂
This story was one that was inspired by a number of real-world events.
The scene of the spectators seeing the funeral procession along is inspired by the Highway of Heroes outside Toronto, Ontario. The location of the funeral itself is an actual location in Calgary, Alberta, just off of Memorial Drive. Finally, the use of Amazing Grace was inspired by the funeral of a friend of mine who was in the Calgary Police Force, where a lone piper had played Amazing Grace.
I’m open to ideas for continuing this story, but for now I’m going to call this one complete.
Once again a huge thank you to my beta reader and friend. You know who you are.
The photo used for the background on this story was taken by myself, for exclusive use on The Nexus Dragon: Fiction. If you want to use it, you’re going to have to contact me first.
DISCLAIMER AND THANK YOU: And a big thank-you to BioWare for creating this awesome universe for me to play in! Of course this means that Mass Effect and all of it’s characters belong to BioWare. I don’t get any money from this.