The primary guiding idea of this fic is that most individual reapers are probably weaker as a whole than a Destiny Raid Boss, and that you could technically solo Crota in 1 before they patched it to make that impossible.
The title is a play on the very first lines Ghost speaks to you, while the chapter titles are from the Sylvia Plath poem Lady Lazarus.
The small white shape blinked in apparent distress as it flitted from point to point, occasionally emitting a beam of light from one of its flat surfaces. What could have once been a human being lay in a scattered heap.
"You'll do," a mechanical voice chirruped frantically from nowhere. "You'll do."
A final flash of light and a human shape formed, landing on its feet before bending over, coughing.
"Guardian," the small machine floating in front of her said. Despite its lack of a face, Jane could swear it was nervous. "Guardian, we need to get off this planet."
Jane coughed. That she had a body to cough with seemed like a new development. "I agree. What are you?" This was, perhaps, the wrong time for questions, but abruptly setting off in a random direction would not help her any more than just spending a moment getting her bearings.
This was, presumably, Alchera. Jane was not as cold as she expected to be; she breathed easily enough, despite knowing that this was not an atmosphere built for humans. She brought her hand up to her face. Right, she was still in her armor. Looking down at herself, she realized she was unarmed, her armor busted up to a worrying degree.
The typical HUD was barely functional, showing a markedly diminished capacity. The self-repairing mechanism was broken, somehow.
Her memories returned to her rapidly, leaving her coughing again.
"I'm a ghost," the small machine said. "More properly, I'm your ghost." As it continued to move around her, Jane noticed her armor healing itself. Was that its doing?
"I don't know what that is," Jane admitted. "Are you Geth or Reaper tech?" She was far enough from any Alliance world to rule that possibility out, and the thing's aesthetic was too square to be most exported Asari tech and too streamlined to be anything else.
"I don't know what that is," the Ghost said, parroting her words. "I have an idea from your memories, but they don't make any sense. Where is this?"
This was what she was doing, then: twenty questions with a small robot. Excellent. "Alchera," Jane said. "What am I doing here?"
"You were dead. I fixed that."
"You brought me back?"
"Yes. Now, we need to go."
"Do you have a name?" Another badly timed question, but Jane could not continue thinking of it as the ghost, or the little machine. The whole situation was spooky enough already.
The ghost blinked at her for a moment. "You can call me Nox," it said, finally. "Do you?"
"Jane Shepard," she said. She smiled unthinkingly, pleased despite herself when that didn't mean anything at all to Nox.
Alchera was a desert planet, all dry ice and cold, blue light. Walking, Jane heard the faint crunch of small amounts of ice breaking under her feet.
That she was not cold was slightly less disconcerting by the second. She was still in her armor. It made sense.
"What are the Geth?" Nox asked.
"A machine-race," Jane said. "They worship the Reapers." How old was Nox, or how isolated? Not knowing about the reapers made sense. Despite Jane's best efforts, they were still a myth to too many people. The geth, however, were well known, if only as a warning against doing what the Quarians did.
"Those are the source of all the screaming?"
Jane stopped. "Excuse me?"
"The screaming," Nox repeated. "In your head."
Her visions from the Prothean artifacts. "Yes," she said. "They are."
"We don't have those, where I'm from, I think." Nox disappeared in a puff of light, but Jane realized she was still aware of its presence. It was just less physical, suddenly. Within her was a bad way to phrase it, but how else could she describe it?
She felt a presence, its presence, brush against her mind. "Where are you from?" she asked.
"Somewhere else," it answered. It sounded frustrated. "I'm not being mysterious on purpose. I just don't know how to explain it. Are you human?"
That question surprised Jane enough to make her laugh.
"Yes," she said. "You have humans, where you're from?"
"We've broadened the definition, a bit, but basically, yeah."
Jane spent the first hour of her long walk sharing information back and forth with Nox.
"Do you need to get back?" Jane asked, once they had sufficiently caught each other up. "Things sound pretty dire, where you're from."
"I don't know," Nox said. It sounded almost sad for a moment. "I'm just one ghost." It materialized, flickering back and forth in front of Jane's face. "You're my guardian," it said. "Or, well, lightbearer, anyway. I feel like you should help your universe first."
Jane smiled. "That's nice of you."
"So, basically, we have to punch the Reapers really, really hard, right?" it asked. It floated down in an almost tragic motion. "If only I was the Guardian's ghost."
The word, which had been a title when it first addressed her with it, now sounded like a name. "The Guardian?"
"The most powerful Guardian ever rezzed." Joy noted with some surprise that Nox's tone was almost… gleeful. "I wonder what element you can use, anyway? I don't even know what you'd be! I thought I'd know." It blinked, once. "This is exciting!"
Nox had mentioned a guardian's abilities alongside its summary of every alien species that wanted humanity dead in its universe (and there was an astonishing amount, even after the First Contact War and everything else, humanity had not made that many enemies).
Jane had yet to have a reason to use hers, assuming she did have any, this far from this so-called Traveler.
She had been, until this moment, alone. Alchera was neither resource rich enough for frequent mining missions nor hospitable enough for colonies—the atmosphere was wrong even for Vorcha—and so she had assumed it would be a while before she found a way off planet. Her plan, and it was not very well though out, was to find the wreckage of the Normandy and see if she could use some remnant of its comm system. She definitely did not expect to come upon, for example, what appeared to be a temporary Blue Sun mercenary group base, not even trying to hide itself.
They had not, it seemed, posted any guards, but as she did not exactly try to hide her approach she was quickly noticed. The base was not exactly large, but Jane immediately noticed the ship. Smaller by far than the Normandy, it could at least, she thought, get her into orbit, and would have a comms unit with enough range to let her find at least someone friendly.
Jane imagined she did not look particularly threatening. She had to hope that in her case, appearances were at least somewhat deceiving.
A person in heavy armor confronted Jane almost immediately, getting in her face in a way that would have been intimidating if Jane hadn't already been in this kind of situation way too much. "Who the fuck are you?" she asked. She wore a helmet that was clear over the eyes. "We were told there wasn't anyone else on this shithole of a planet."
Jane held up her hands placatingly, showing that she was unarmed. "I'm Jane Shepard," she said. "I want to get off this shithole of a planet."
The woman took a step back and raised her gun. "That's impossible," she said. "Jane Shepard's dead, and we're here to collect her body."
Jane smiled. "It seems," she said. "You've been preempted."
The woman fired in tandem with the other mercenaries who were already out of the habitats, but before their bullets could hit Jane, she pushed her hands upwards, following an instinct she did not know she had. A purple barrier formed itself around her, emanating from her hands, and stopped the projectiles in their tracks, dissolving them into nothing.
"You're a Titan!" Nox said. Jane had no idea what that meant, but it seemed to delight her ghost.
The hail of bullets stopped for a moment as the woman looked as though she was about to flee, then started up again. "Oh, great," Jane said. "Just what I needed."
Reaching out of her little bubble of safety, she pulled the woman inside it, punching her in the side of her head, her fist glowing with light the same color as the barrier, her other hand pulling her gun out of her now-limp grip.
The bubble would stop her bullets going out as well, she thought, but she was armed now, which was an improvement under any circumstance.
"I don't want to kill you," she said. "I really, really don't. Just tell me who hired you and get me out of here, and we never have to deal with each other again." She raised the shotgun.
To her disappointment, if not surprise, the other mercs fired on her. That, at least, gave her an idea of how high the price on her corpse was. Jane barreled out of the protective cover of the purple barrier towards the closest merc, shooting him in the chest with slugs she instinctively coated in biotic energy. It seemed, despite her new, more purple abilities, she still had access to that. Good.
It didn't take very long for her to kill the rest, grabbing a pistol from one of the other bodies. She had a feeling that she wouldn't need it, really, but she felt better this way.
"Damn," she said. She took a moment to laugh breathlessly. "That was almost fun." She felt a little bad about the dead mercs, as always, but she had given them a chance. That none of them had taken a look at the supposedly dead woman with the spooky purple biotics (as she assumed they would interpret the whole light show) and thought maybe the money's not worth it this one time meant her conscience was, all things considered, relatively clear.
"Void light!" Nox said. "I didn't know if that would even work out here!"
"I'm still not sure what the fuck that was," she said.
"We're as far from the Traveler as you could ever be, but it still works!" Nox sounded delighted and like it was talking mostly to itself. "If that's not proof, I don't know what is."
"Proof of what?"
It stopped its movement. "Nothing," it said. "More importantly, you have a ship. Can you fly?"
Not as well as Joker, but this ship was a great deal smaller than the Normandy, and looked to be much less complicated to pilot. She could call someone and wait to be picked up, but that would probably just mean more mercs. She had been really lucky that none of them were biotics, and she would have to be careful that there was no one on board or still hiding somewhere.
"Can I take a direct hit?"
"How do you mean?"
"If someone shot me in the shoulder, would it slow me down?"
"You're still human," Nox said. It sounded worried, all of a sudden. "You'll still die if someone drives a spike into your head, or cuts you open with a sword. I can bring you back, of course, but it hurts."
"That's good to know, but that's not my question. Am I more durable?" Could she, if she wanted to, ignore people shooting at her as she made off with their ship, for example?
"Yes," Nox said.
Making her way into the ship was less of an ordeal than she feared it would be. Her omnitool still functioned, and faced with the door mechanism Nox chirped, "You know, I can open that for you."
It sounded almost proud of itself. "I am a machine. I'm good at talking to other machines."
"We don't really make our machines able to talk," Jane said. "That led to problems, the last time."
As Nox investigated the lock, Jane realized that there was no explanation for her ghost she could come up with that would not piss off someone important, or worse, attract someone's interest.
The door opened slowly, and Nox flitted back to Jane's hand, vanishing again.
It did not take Jane very long to figure out the controls, especially with Nox's help. Even better, in the ship's weapons locker she found a rocket launcher. Excellent.
"I took the liberty of looking through the ship's computer. Apparently these mercs were hired by something called the "Shadow Broker." Do you know what that is?"
Jane sighed. "I do," she said. "And it's not good news. Do you know where they were supposed to drop my body off?" It was strange talking about herself as an object, but she supposed that was what she was up until the moment Nox brought her back.
"Someplace called Omega station."
"Oh!" Jane checked the ship's nav system. "That's only a few systems over, we should get there in about a day and a half."
It seemed, according to what Nox had said, that ships in her universe went faster or at least could go farther than those it was familiar with. Jane could not imagine being restricted to a single solar system like that. Then again, Nox was apparently completely unfamiliar with the Mass Effect, which meant that it was quite possible that the very fabrics of their universes were different.
This did not explain how Jane could access abilities granted by a machine-god (for so it seemed the Traveler to be) in another reality, but now was not the time for such mysteries.
"Excellent," Nox said. "In the meantime, I'm going to see if I can find anything else useful." It disappeared, almost melting into the ship's terminal. Moment later, it reappeared, chirping thoughtfully. "Do you think you could ever build me a shell?" it asked.
"You know," it said, "another shape for me. Just so I have the options."
It disappeared again.
"I'm not a machinist," Jane said apologetically. "But, if I find any of my friends who are again, they can probably figure something out."
"Thanks," it said. "I really do appreciate it."
What was wrong with its current shape? Jane wondered. A small, white machine made of interlocking cubes, sometimes dissolving, sometimes expanding, seemed fairly versatile and yet hard to replicate with any tech she was familiar with. Like a technology which Nox had called transmat, while her reality had faster ship, its had apparently mastered a way of breaking and recreating matter which seemed utterly impossible to Jane. A shell for Nox would have to be able to work with its various abilities, and she genuinely did not know whether that could be done with her reality's tech.
Of course, hers was a reality also lacking in cryptarchs and engrams, a concept Jane still couldn't quite grasp, which meant finding ways to augment her and Nox's light with equipment would be much more difficult.
Coming back to life had failed to solve any of Jane's problems other than the state of death itself and had also opened up a whole new host of complications.
She probably should have been more concerned or afraid than she was, considering she had no idea what had destroyed the Normandy or if it was still out there, but she honestly could not feel anything other than excitement and the desire to get at the bottom of the various mysteries she found herself once more at the center of.
Was she different, now that she had died and come back? She had her biotic implants, her omnitool. Her hands and face and eyes were the same, as she had confirmed, or thought she had confirmed, in a mirror in the ship's bathroom. Her hair was still bright red.
She didn't feel different. According to Nox, most ghosts deleted the memories of their guardians—it had not because of its panic at being in a strange place—but it had promised that it had changed nothing in her mind.
These thoughts, she decided, were not helpful. If she ever found herself with a quiet moment, a thought which almost made her smile, she would ponder that more. For now, she had to try not to fall asleep and listen to the faint hum of Nox working.
Hopefully, she would find something she knew at Omega. It had, it seemed, been a few weeks at least since her death, according to the time in the ship's computer, but the crash had only been yesterday for her, and she wanted desperately to know whether who of her friends had made it out alive.
She had died, and someone had put a price on her body. That was, if nothing else, a sign that the war she fought had not ended with Saren's death, and thanks to Nox, it would not end with hers, either.
The bodies were found an hour later when they failed to check in with base camp.
They noticed the stolen ship immediately, the missing weapons soon after. Most of the dead mercs had been shot in the chest or head, but one had had her helmet partially melted into her face.
Like all soldiers, of any organization, their omnitools came equipped with recorders, and the Blue Sun mercenaries watched in horror the woman in flickering hologram declared herself Jane Shepard before massacring the whole group of them.
This was not supposed to happen. Jane Shepard was dead, and it was their job to bring her back. It was supposed to be simple, one of the simplest jobs these mercs had had in a long time. Unlike living marks, corpses were not supposed to be able to fight back or summon strange light with their hands.
"We have to warn the guys back at Omega," one said.
"They're already fucked," the another said.
"Should we pursue?" the first asked. Her companion shook her head.
"This is way beyond the scope of the contract," she said. "We give a warning, and then we head back. Hope to beat her there."
"What if we don't?"
She found that she had no answer.
Thank you for reading! I couldn't find any good information on how fast ships move between galaxies (I'm sure there's something buried on a forum somewhere, but that's still just speculations) but considering each game is supposed to take place over the course of a year and the player spends a lot of time moving around, I assumed that within single clusters it does not take very long indeed. I will take corrections on this, but only polite ones. I've already altered the time given somewhat thanks to some helpful comments from a friend.
Please leave reviews, they're one way to catch mistakes, anyhow.