An Obituary for My Commander Shepard

Picture, if you will, the dedication of a memorial to Commander Shepard in her absence after she’s saved the galaxy. This is both a picture of her as she lives in my head (at least one version of her) and a complete and utter spoiler of the Mass Effect series as a whole. Remember: this comes from the perspective of a person on Earth when the ending happened.

Shepard was the Chuck Norris of her century, guns and all. Sure, all of those touching emotional scenes in the games made for a more-human hero. She could have love affairs and close friends, could be affectionate and even playful.

But Commander Shepard, as the Mass Effect series plays out, can’t be those things at heart. Shepard had no well-connected mother out there, easing her path up the ranks. She grew up on the streets, tough as nails and twice as hard. She paid for everything she ever won, one way or another. Even my fail-Shep was six kinds of epic but she had a terrible, heart-wrenching time of it in Mass Effect 3. This eulogy is for her. I don’t know who’s giving it but apparently he knew her well.

Commander Shepard was an N7 before she even joined the Alliance Navy; we merely recognized it when we gave her the title.

If she decided your opinion mattered she would prove herself and earn your respect. When she accepted your friendship she considered you hers and she fought to keep you (and to keep you safe) as fiercely as she would anything else she’d won. When you crossed Commander Shepard or threatened what was hers you signed your own death warrant, often literally. Just ask the Collectors.

She made her decisions based on what was best for everyone, not just one species or situation. Her view was “big-picture” in everything she did. Cold fury enabled her to act in the face of overwhelming odds but never colored her choices. Shepard calculated the foreseeable impact of each decision and expected her friends and those under her command to do the same.

When the Commander made a sacrifice for the greater good she expected those around her to understand why. They were welcome to ask and to argue. She sought others’ opinions when there was time to consider opposing points of view but instant and decisive action was her specialty.

Shepard paid a heavy price for this. Amidst the death and destruction that surrounded her all her life, some things slid straight through the chinks in her armor and became a part of her. They accrued into a nightmare landscape, what she viewed as her failures aggregating inside.

She slept as little as possible, in part because she was so driven and in part because small things haunted her. Images of those she had failed to save, those she had sacrificed on the altar of the greater good, those who had suffered because she simply could not be everywhere at once chased her through her dreams. The decisions she later came to believe mistakes shadowed her mind every time she made a new one.

She took being made the first Human Spectre as a matter of course. The galaxy, in her mind, already existed under her sheltering wing, fallible though her protection might be. Every step she took to allow humans more power was taken with a view to giving them more opportunity, as outsiders, to mitigate the foolish squabbling of the other species. If she could only force everyone to behave maybe she could get some rest.

When Shepard learned of the Reapers, she ran straight to the Council to warn them. It never occurred to her that they would not believe the truth. She was Commander Shepard; she did not stoop to lying or exaggerating for attention. Their dismissal came as a slap in her face, a reminder of how powerless our species remained in the larger scope of galactic politics.

That hardly slowed her down, however. She exploited every freedom her new status gave her to pursue and eliminate the threat. Along the way she collected like-minded people. Some of them become more to her than she had ever had, her first family more than just another crew.

One of them, Kaidan Alenko, became her sounding board and second conscience, the one to whom she turned in rare moments when she was overwhelmed by doubt. By the time they chased Saren and Sovereign to the Citatdel those people mattered nearly as much in her calculations as the larger issue of the Reapers.

After they had destroyed Sovereign, Shepard nominated then-Alliance Captain Anderson to the temporarily-cowed Council to retain as much freedom as she could. The fight had not ended, merely been postponed. Back to work she went.

Reaper-indoctrinated Geth threatened all other sentient beings, thus they had to go. And when the Collectors showed up in that hunt Commander Shepard did what she must for her family, getting them out of her ship at any cost. Then, finally, the silence of death.

Cerberus brought her back. Nothing could have made her happier than being reawakened and freed from the constant reminders of the ghosts which chased her through the coma in which she had lain for weeks while Dr. Miranda Lawson put her body back together. If she must work with the same people she’d been pursuing then she would. When it was no longer necessary they would learn what it meant to push Commander Shepard against her will.

Her concern lay not just in saving humans but in protecting the galaxy. Any threat to an entire species would not stop at just one. She built a new team out of the scraps of the old, the ragged remains of the family she had—in her mind—only just finished pushing into escape pods. The dizzying realization that she’d lost two years of her life took a back seat to getting the job done.

When Garrus Vakarian rejoined her, nothing seemed impossible. There was her Turian counterpart, having spent the years without her giving everything he had to doing what was right as best he could, just as she would have done. Her equilibrium returned: between them they could finish what they’d started.

She confirmed as she went about her business that her family still lived. Though she’d have loved to have them back with her, Shepard of all people understood putting aside personal happiness for something more important. She missed the strength and wit of Urdnot Wrex but certainly uniting the Krogans took precedence and he was the only one willing and able to do it.

Alenko, however, presented a massive conflict. Commander Shepard dismissed those who refused to listen or to see other viewpoints. The truth was the truth, as far as she was concerned, and those who knew her knew she never lied. Yet there the person she had thought knew her best stood, adamant in his disbtrust.

Again, she shoved her pain to one side and continued. Heartbreak could join the phantoms of sleep while she got some goddamned work done. Shepard did not have time for wallowing.

She despised Zaeed Masani for his selfish pursuits but she used any tool to hand for her own aims so she accepted his help. Shepard and the Asari Justicar Samara viewed one another with profound respect. Both were deeply committed to codes that trumped mere emotion or personal convenience.

Thane Krios she adored, because of both his skills and his commitment to doing the most good he could with the time he had left. They were kindred spirits in this and his understated affection was balm for her wounded heart whether she admitted it or not.

This new family did what they had to and chased the Collectors home and to their deaths. Yet when she returned she again found disbelief. Triumphant Commander Shepard spent the next year under house arrest in an Alliance facility, reiterating her story for every comer and demanding they prepare for the Reapers.

Finally Anderson left the Council and forced himself into a position to free her. By then it was nearly too late. The Reapers attacked Earth just as she and her former commanding officer approached the few people who were finally willing to act.

Shepard was thrown back in with scraps of her family and gathered more about her. Vakarian returned to fight at her side as did Liara T’soni. Krios was too ill to travel with them but gave his life to help her stop the assassination of the Council when Udina betrayed them to Cerberus. Mordin Solus also gave his life to cure the genophage as the price for securing the aid of the Krogan species. These deaths tortured her sleep but every waking moment was dedicated to moving forward.

Alenko, then a major in the navy, had been badly injured just after the Reapers attacked but recovered to return as well. Shepard respected his willingness to set aside his doubts about her after her time with Cerberus to do his utmost for the rest of the galaxy. Their renewed bond and Vakarian’s support lent her strength enough to face the wholesale destruction the Reapers inflicted on every system.

Commander Shepard gathered the knowledge and tools needed to bring the galaxy together and arm its species for victory. Though new nightmares joined those that already haunted her, she made every decision with the final goal in mind.

She condemned the Quarian species to death so that the stronger, more able forces of the Geth would join our fight. The subsequent suicide of her friend Tali’Zorah nearly destroyed her for a time but, with the help of her family, she renewed her dedication to stopping the Reapers.

The galaxy took the loss of the Asari home world much harder but Shepard shouldered that blame, as well, and continued. By then she had killed three Reapers. She had proven that they could die and she would find a way to rid the galaxy of the rest, no matter the uncertainties or hesitations of others.

Cerberus and their insane leader known only as The Illusive Man opposed her at every turn. Her wrath had been kindled by his earlier manipulations and when she finally loosed it on his hidden base she destroyed everything he had left behind, including the assassin that had killed Krios, a fortuitous merger of personal revenge and practical ass covering.

Scientists of every species, whom Shepard had convinced to work together, finished the Crucible that held the key to final victory. It was on the Cerberus headquarters base that she finally uncovered its secret: it could only be fired from the Citadel.

Before she could pass on that information the Reapers, already in control of The Illusive Man and thus privy to that secret, took The Citadel to an orbit near Earth and mustered their numbers to defend it. Commander Shepard led the galaxy’s remaining forces on an all-out assault to clear a path for the Crucible.

Losses were staggering, not only for her team but for all fleets and ground troops. At every corner Shepard found death yet nothing could deter her. The horror fueled her determination to save whatever was left.

At the end, she crawled toward the beam that relayed her to the Citadel then found within herself the strength to rise. We will never know what she encountered there. We do know that her determination and anger allowed her to achieve her goal. She opened the arms of the Citadel and allowed the Crucible to dock.

After a delay of some minutes, ground and space forces fighting a desperate end-game the whole while, a wave of energy emerged from the Citadel and spread at incredible speed. Reapers and their cyborg mutations erupted in red lighting and fell dead. Sadly, the same affliction destroyed all the Geth and any other AIs fighting on our side.

It took us little time to discover that the same force which blew apart the Citadel in that moment had destroyed the mass relay in the Sol system. We cannot in our lifetimes know if it was only our relay or if everything the Reapers built went the same way.

Commander Shepard’s frigate, the SSV Normandy, is presumed to have been destroyed with the remaining members of her team aboard. No trace of it or those closest to her has been found. Admirals Hackett and Anderson, along with the cream of the galaxy’s scientists and technicians, were near Shepard aboard the Citadel or the Crucible when they exploded.

Not one of those who so deserves our gratitude and admiration survived to receive it here. For now, the forces of all the species that have found themselves trapped by circumstance in our system are working together to clear and rebuild Earth. In time we will recover what remains of the Citadel’s technology and again look outward to the galaxy.

We gather today, Asari and Turian, Krogan and Human, to dedicate this memorial to Commander Shepard in the hope that, somewhere, somehow, she can see us and know that all she sacrificed, including her own life, was enough to deliver the galaxy from the threat she gave everything to fight.

Rest in peace, Commander Shepard. You earned it.

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