An eyebrow arched, Nathan’s gaze returned to this other Shepard. To the ramble of words and flimsy moral sentiments. Ideals that would not hold within a war, that would instead cause one to stumble, to lose sight of the end goal in their vain attempts to save everyone.
The reality was that war was death. To say that loss, that the need for such in order to progress was fabricated, seemed ignorant to him.
“Sometimes sacrifices are required in order to obtain your end goal. It is delusional, willingly ignorant, to forgo the overall mission in an attempt to cater to a selfish need to get caught up on the ideals of being a hero. You speak of becoming lost to the full picture, and yet I contend that the argument you present is blinder of the full scale. Lost instead to the ultimately inconsequential statics of loss when compared to that of the galaxy.
A factitious need to control life and death? You forget that such decisions are ours to make, part of our duty, part of this war. Wanted or not, it is a responsibility we must handle.”
And so it had been with many along the way, lost to the machine of war and progress. Some had been at his behest, others had not, but the result were ever the same. Regardless of his personal attachments, regardless of his inclinations, they had been made. Wrex, Mordin, countless soldiers and allies, the quarian race. And Tali? Had that been worth it too?
Nathan’s jaw clenched, gaze narrowing. “If one is ill prepared to make those sort of decisions, to watch crew members and allies die, then they are in a poor position to be of any real use.”
He was unimpressed. Though this stranger may have been a Shepard, it appeared they shared little in common. Certainly not when it pertained to their duties or command. A part of him almost, almost, felt some amount of pity for Jace. This war would break him, of that he was certain. One could not sustain what loss and agony was yet to come on the hopes of saving everyone. Of saving anyone.
“We may need manpower but not at the cost of effectiveness. That will prove of little use to anyone, let alone the soldier’s squad. We can’t simply just throw bodies at the Reapers hoping it will make a dent. No, instead it will offer them an easier time to obtain more husks we will have to dispatch later.”
There was a pause, a moment of deliberation before Nathan continued.
“But this idea of cremation has merit. Cut off their potential supply. Although, I am not certain how much of a dent it would actually make when they are scooping up bodies from the battlefield as they fall. It isn’t so much their brute strength as the overwhelming number of their ground troops that is keeping the Reapers ahead at this point. Though I am not uninformed enough to suggest they do not also posses such. No, just that they do not see us as threat enough to employ further tactics.”
With each passing second, Jace took in the words of this new iteration of himself, this new Shepard who seemed to share every opposing view he did. And he spoke, rambled, and when he did it was clear. The other times had been formal responses, nothing more than giving a reply to let Jace know he was being heard- even if only partially. But this time?
It sounded like Jace somehow struck a chord with Nathan; he spoke up, stepped slightly forward and began a vocal track of belligerence. And Nathan did speak of personal thoughts on war, rather than speaking on the actuality of it. A moral compass and point in any direction, and rather than lecture Jace with facts, he spat underlying venom at him.
Because, for all his smiles and closed eyes, Jace was neither naïve nor stupid, and Jace was quite keen on picking up when he was being talked down to. Not just in consideration to him literally sitting down and being talked to, but in the manner in which Nathan spoke. Condescension so thick Jace could see it lofting around the red-eyed man.
But Nathan wasn’t anything new, either. Jace had run into many like him during Basic, several more after. The lack of empathy, the need for power, and the inability to see past their own nose if it wasn’t something for them. Instead of retorting every little word and countering every point he made, Jace simply kept at his work, listening all the while. Taking his time, letting Nathan release that hot air. And doing so without stopping to look at him once.
Sure fire way to anger someone full of themselves is not give them attention.
And when the words stopped flowing, even with the addition to the body burning, Jace took his time sitting on his feet and thinking the words over. Rather than get himself carried away in emotion, he judged every word, every detail. Making sure it translated over properly before even responding to Nathan.
“The real problem with the cremation- two fold- comes at those overwhelming numbers. But not the numbers themselves, no, the locations and the composition of the numbers. The Reapers are focusing primarily on the large cities- London I think is getting hit the worst from the last report I read, and they’re moving slowly.
Course, this matches data suggesting they wage war in generations, not in decades. Meaning they’re going to go about this as slowly as they can. No need to rush it, we’ll wear ourselves thin fighting them. That’s the hope, anyway, from what I gather about it. Makes the most sense.
But it’s the composition of the foot troops they deploy.” Jace brought up a single, pale yellow omni-tool to cover his wrist and display some letters he knew would have been foreign to Nathan, even with the translators active. Jace quickly scanned some of the words before turning the light off. “Last report cited an increase of marauder enemies and cannibal enemies. Not husks.
Now, remember back to the Collector base?” If Nathan really was a Shepard, he’d remember it. “What was waiting at the end of the tunnel, and why were human colonies disappearing? So, we’re seeing a drop in the number of husks but increases in the turian and batarian enemies.
The cremation wouldn’t be just so the Reapers don’t get more ground troops. It’s so they don’t get more bodies to play with elsewhere.” A deep breath to cool the nerves and a shirt sleeve to wipe sweat from the brow. “One of the biggest problems would be, similar to what you suggested that taking the bodies with would take man-power. Resources and time to drag the corpses of our own. Can’t make a retreat with that premise, and trying to take back that ground would be a lost cause.
Then the burning itself would send red flags. The Reapers are not invading small settlements and communities. Meaning their ground forces stick to the cities too. Sudden plumes of smoke mean something is going on, and will attract attention. Likewise, there isn’t a safe place to mass burn the bodies, meaning they could be graved, but that falls into the last problem.”
Exhale, inhale. Breath. “A lot of the causalities are not just military. They’re your ‘necessary sacrifices’. Civilians being round up and slaughtered or taken elsewhere for that process of the Reapers do. And having them burn the bodies of their loved ones? Even if it’s the right thing to do, even if you point guns at them to do it, they’re not going to. They’re not going to set afire their children or spouses. And then you have to turn your guns on them. And the last thing we need on our hands is a mutiny during a time of war.”
Finally, Jace stood to his feet and lined up eyes with his alter. His other. The light reflecting off the two mingled and meshed in the center. Jace made sure to wear the smile on his face vindictively. If he was going to be talked down to, then he was going to be rude about taking it in response.
Nathan was just a hair shorter than he was, in more than height. He was so proud, so arrogant, it was almost scary someone could be lost in themselves that much. And with someone like this, there wasn’t argument. They would not accept being wrong. The flaw with a perfectionist is they can’t reach perfection. And flaws are just so ugly, aren’t they?
“As for the rest of what you said, they are simply differing philosophies on conduct, war or not. Everyone plays a part, and while it is true that dead weight can weigh one down, one moves loads faster with more bodies. And someone attempting to help is better than trying to have another body to shield forces against.
But to note the end goal requiring sacrifices means you want to cause them, rather than noting a possibility, and likely that you are hoping to have them happen. It’s wasteful, in more ways than I care to address, and shows the signs of impatience. Generally, sloppy movements and poor judgment on timing.
And the control of life and death is not, in any way, part of our job or duty. In fact, our job is simple. We attempt to destroy the Reapers while protecting the galaxy. We are cogs, small pieces within a larger machine, rather than the machine with cogs within. A large head believes they control life and death, and it gets in the way of the reality around them.
And that reality is this war will not be won atop a pile of the dead. But it will not be won without loss of life either. But our job isn’t to help that destruction.”
Jace clears his throat, noting the tickle in the back of his neck. In the back of his mind. “And, to the massive loss in the galaxy, I am going to assume I am not the only one who actually reads the reports, the numbers. They’re staggering. And every day they grow. It’s something that doesn’t come with war. This goes above and beyond that. This is a whole’nother scale of death. Omnicide, essentially.
And even if sacrifices are required, it is both impractical and distasteful to not plan out ways to avoid the scenario. Does that mean it is possible to save everyone? No. Does that mean you simply ignore it and lead your troops into a suicidal charge? No. It means you be a leader and realize that sacrifices don’t happen at the bottom of the chain only.
Either way, the semantics of war do not get settle by simply debating the merit of opinions, do they? We can swap words, but that does not actually change anything on the field of combat. They are just two schools of thought and training. Nothing more.”