Opening Author's Notes
Here we are again!
You probably remember the premise of these vignettes by now, but I'll mention it in brief. These are 1000-word snapshots of the events of Mass Effect 3. Now, I know that the ME3 ending is very controversial, and whether you loved, hated, or felt indifferent about it, let me humbly suggest that you enjoy the story for where it is in the grand scheme of things and worry about the end a little closer to the end. It's quite a ways off, so why worry about it before we have to? Just my humble suggestion.
For those of you who are new, I recommend going back to read 'Newton's First' and 'Newton's Second.' If you didn't read them, 'First Thermodynamics' and 'Second Thermodynamics' do quite a bit of set-up. 'Cause and Effect' (this Shepard's origin story) will help clarify a few minor characters who will likely crop up, but it isn't strictly necessary since most of them appear in one or two of the aforementioned recommended readings.
Also, over the course of 2012-2016, I asked for your feedback with regards to title prompts, because my box had narrowed to the point of tunnel vision. What I didn't tell you was that they were for Newton's Third. Ladies and gentlemen, we are here because you helped get us here. I would like to thank the following contributors for their support:
Awaylaughing, BrownBear, CyanB, Darth Garak, Draggu, Faretta, Janizary, Justbehappydammit, Justsomebody2, Katkat42, Plotbunnyprey, Pyrotorch246, Quantum Paradigm, Ray Venn Hakubi, and Torroar.
Thank you all, because I wasn't sure I had the words or the strength for Newton's Third in me. I'm still not… but your support has been a major contributing factor to this installment's existence. So thank you all again.
Special thanks to the Mass Effect Wiki, the Prima guide that holds all my sticky notes of notes, and to Bioware, who owns Mass Effect—this disclaimer applies to any and all chapters of this work.
This story picks up directly after the last chapter of Second Thermodynamics.
Newton's Third Law states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It was not the way Shepard expected to be 'taken into custody'. In fact, it was much more like a family reunion…though she used the term 'family' in an exceptionally loose sense.
Even after 'wall to wall therapy' with Garrus, even with the bruises still livid, she wished the Alliance had just popped a black bag over her head, snatched her up, and carted her off. She did not—though it was no relief—feel the sickening sensations Sidonis described, but she certainly felt sick.
The number 304,942—the number of the dead at Aratoht—seemed burned onto the backs of her eyelids. She found herself endlessly justifying her actions, and endlessly wondering if maybe she'd missed something, some action that would have made a difference. The cold logic that had, for most of her life, defined her was wholly unsympathetic to conscience: there was nothing she could have done except not get knocked out by Object Rho in the first place.
And Object Rho was Reaper-tech.
Which made her stomach go cold again with fear. Could the thing have indoctrinated her? Dr. Chakwas certainly couldn't confirm or deny this…Chambers said she was all right, but still…
She shook herself, glad to be by herself…mostly.
She hadn't been surprised that Anderson was the one sent to bring her in; it was reassuring but unsurprising. She wasn't sure what to think of 'the babysitter' Anderson had tapped for duty, but it was clear Anderson wanted her to think something about him.
Given what she knew about Anderson, the tank of a man was for the reassurance of everyone else, to give the illusion that she, Shepard, was under control, collared and chipped by the Alliance.
Because the whole galaxy and their dog knew about Aratoht by the time Hackett's delegation came to pick her up. She blamed this on Harbinger, and it elicited one of the few embers that burned through her guilt, though in a way she preferred that something happen. Or maybe that was still shock.
She shook her head to clear it. It was the only way solid information could have gotten through the comm blackout and out of the system. The Reaper had gotten in the last blow and was probably smirking over it even now. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
The real insult to pride was that she hadn't smelled the Reaper trap—she gave them credit for the whole setup—when she walked into it. The Collectors might—and she could only theorize—have been the Reapers' main pipeline of information prior to the destruction of their base, but clearly the Reapers had ways of keeping tabs on the galaxy.
Hoping to have them in a comm blackout themselves was optimistic in an extreme she didn't even want to have passing thoughts about.
She had the nasty feeling that the time for stalling the Reapers had lapsed: there would be no more holding actions, no more delaying tactics. They would just drop into a system, or a dozen systems all at once, and the party would be over.
Or just starting, depending on who you were. The thing that made the Reaper arrival truly horrifying, to her, was the number of people who would be caught flat-footed. Those wiped out in the initial attack would probably never know what hit them; in a way, they'd be the lucky ones.
She'd certainly done a bang-up job in averting some of those damages. She didn't expect anyone to go into full-scale war preparations and cause mass panics, but such things could—and had in various histories—been done on a smaller scale. The galaxy had since '83 to start discreetly preparing.
As for 'proofs' of the danger…the proof was in the inconsistencies, the repeated deviations from 'normalcy' without explanation or reason. She clipped this thought: it inevitably made her feel nauseous. She now understood what 'watching a train wreck' meant. She could see the cause, see the effect, see what was happening…but couldn't do a damn thing about it.
A cold feeling ran through her as a new thought—or maybe an old one, shuffled to the bottom of the deck of 'scary thoughts' finally returning to fill out a hand of cards—would the Council be stupid enough to think they could reason or negotiate with the Reapers? The idea made her feel even sicker than before. Once they appreciated what kind of enemy she'd been trying to prepare them for…they just might. Once their homeworlds came under attack, they just might.
She couldn't say why, but she found herself thinking that the asari councilor would be most likely to want to negotiate a ceasefire while the turian councilor would be most likely to resist such a movement…until the losses his people suffered screamed for remedy.
Yet again she shook herself, returning to finding pinpricks of light in her current mindset: Hackett must believe something. Anderson certainly did, though what he could do was unclear (assassinating his fellow Councilors if they went anywhere near a Reaper was apparently out of the question). Still, what anyone could do with such a small pool of informed persons was questionable.
Tides might turn due to valorous acts or necessity under pressure, but one was not generally fighting enemies two-kilometers in length with superior weapons and shields. Traditional holding actions wouldn't work so well, as far as she could tell.
But it was something. She was clutching at straws and she knew it.
If ever there was a time for a stiff drink, now would be the time. Curse her bad genetics…and then she wondered if that kink in the genes might not have been fixed or altered by her 'resuscitation.'
Best not to find out.
Shepard got to her feet, prowled restlessly. She hated these alternating fits of lethargy and nervous energy.
She wished they were in dock and that she had a bathtub. A soak would be nice; it was always better to mull things over in hot water.