A/N: So you guys have been very patient with me, and the sequel to Better Angels is still in the works, I promise. But to celebrate the first anniversary of my starting to publish on the site, and Better Angels passing 100 000 views (seriously, you guys are amazing - thank you so much for reading my stuff, and for your support, it means the world to me), I decided to take a closer look at the story from the viewpoint of one of my favourite characters. No idea yet how this will really shake out, but let's give it a whirl, shall we? Characters and the Mass Effect setting belong to Bioware, I'm just having a bit of fun... As always, Better Angels 'verse.
Alliance Medical Facilities, London, Earth, 2186
"Can I ask you a question, ma'am?"
"Certainly. I like to see a hunger for knowledge in the young."
"You served on the Normandy, didn't you?"
"All the wealth of wisdom at my disposal, and that's your question?"
"No. No." Private Kowalski shifted slightly in his bed, straining to sit up. "But you did, right?"
"Yes, I did."
"So what was it like? I mean," Kowalski bulldozed on to avoid a further interruption, "working with Commander Shepard, and all those aliens. Taking down Saren, then working for Cerberus against the Collectors, and ... shit, Doc... uh, I mean, ma'am. You were there for, like, the whole campaign. From Eden Prime right the way through to London, you were on Shepard's crew. You were there when it all went down. It musta been awesome."
Dr. Karin Chakwas snorted brusquely as she placed a breath sensor before her patient. "I wasn't anywhere, Private. Here, blow into this for me... thank you. I was in my medbay, doing my job by patching up people like you, block-headed squaddies with more courage than sense, be they human, turian, krogan, quarian or asari." This again, she thought wryly. Even after all they've fought through, all the horrors, they still want tales of heroes and glorious victories. "Though Alliance marines do set the bar for sheer guts - and the attendant stupidity - rather higher than most others."
"Semper fi," the young man grinned, unfazed by her attempted disdain. "Come on, Doc," he wheedled, "you must have some stories. Tell me about Commander Shepard." He coughed, a racking bark that shook his entire frame, and wiped the smile from his face. "Please?" he croaked.
Karin eased him back onto his pillows, crushing down the sudden urge to weep. Little more than a boy, Private Kowalski was dying. He'd caught a radiation blast from a Reaper destroyer being brought down, caught it at just exactly the wrong range, too far to be killed outright, too close to receive a treatable dose. All they could really do for him was manage his symptoms and ease his suffering. No matter how often Karin had dealt with such cases through her long career, it never got any easier. Especially with the young ones. "Very well, Mr. Kowalski," she acquiesced, taking a seat on the bed. Taking his mind off his situation for a while would probably help them both, she reasoned. "What would you like to hear about?"
"Anything. Everything." The young man smiled up at her, eager curiosity brightening his eyes. "How did you even get appointed to the ship in the first place?"
Karin chuckled. "I was lucky enough to be shipmates with the Normandy's first captain..."
SSV Tokyo, 15th March 2183
"Good evening, Doctor."
The skipper's rumbling bass cut through the stillness of the medbay. Karin hastily gulped down the last mouthful of her tea and swivelled her chair to face him. As she started to stand, Captain Anderson waved her back down with a genial grin. "Ah, ah, keep your seat, Doc - I think we're past the need for formalities by now, don't you?"
"I never like to presume, sir," Karin replied with an answering smile; the CO's relaxed approach was something she appreciated after nearly twenty-five years' service. "What can I do for you?" She activated her omni-tool, checking his records. "You're overdue your routine physical, you know. Setting a bad example to the crew, et cetera."
Anderson rolled his eyes as he pulled out the chair next to hers and sat down. "Not right now, Doc, please."
"Can I book you in for an appointment?"
He nodded resignedly. "Sure. Day after tomorrow, once Commander Cole is back aboard and I'm not on swing shifts."
"Understood, sir, thank you." Karin made a note on her omni-tool and closed it down.
"Yes, sir. Mid-watch is usually pretty slow, what with everyone getting their beauty sleep. Gives me time to catch up my reading and correspondence courses."
Anderson nodded to her terminal screen. "What are you working on there?"
"My final certification for advanced asari trauma surgery. It's accredited through Serrice University Hospital. I'm given to understand that it's rather a tough school, and the course has been an excellent challenge."
Anderson quirked a questioning eyebrow. "Have you treated alien patients before, or is this some kind of busman's hobby?"
"I did an exchange on Thessia when I was serving aboard the Valley Forge. I spent six months in a hospital in Armali," Karin explained. "I started studying for my qualifications while I was there. And I'm also certified for turian trauma, have been since Shanxi."
Anderson frowned. "I didn't know you were at Shanxi, Doc. It's not in your file."
"No, it wouldn't be," Karin smiled. "I was a cadet at the time, on my field experience semester while going through officer training at Bethesda. It was quite the introduction to the military life."
The captain chuckled at the understatement. "I'll bet. Well, this new intelligence certainly makes what I'm about to propose a more solid choice." He leaned forward in his chair, dark eyes fixed intently on the medic. "This is confidential, Doctor, so keep it under your hat for now. I've been appointed to a new command, and I'll be leaving the ship at the end of this cruise."
Karin blinked, surprised by the news. "I... well, congratulations, sir. But I think I can speak for most of the crew when I say we'll be sorry to lose you." She'd been working with Anderson for a few years now, and had come to greatly respect her commanding officer. They'd struck up a warm professional friendship, since the skipper often found his way to the medbay in the still watches of the night, looking for some company or perspective. Half the crew are little more than kids, he'd grumbled once. Sometimes, you just need to have a conversation with a real grown-up. Happily, they had also discovered a shared taste for Serrice ice brandy and fine single malt whisky, which had helped the conversations along no end. "I'll certainly miss our little chats."
Anderson smiled conspiratorially. "Not necessarily. I've been asked to take command of an experimental frigate. She's coming off the line in a few weeks. We co-built her with the Turians, as a gesture of closer co-operation with the Council races. The brass want to make a good impression, so I've been authorised to hand-pick my crew. I'd like you to be my Chief Medical Officer, Karin." His smile became sly. "Working with the Council, chances are you'll get the opportunity to put some of that extra-curricular learning to good use, and I enjoy our little chats as much as you do. Besides, which, you're the best CMO I've worked with; your name was always going to be at the top of my list."
"My word, that's quite the charm offensive, Captain. It's a privilege to see such a master strategist in action," Karin twitted him gently, and he chuckled.
"That's the other reason I want you on my team - your propensity for puncturing egos. A handpicked crew, the best the Alliance has to offer - I don't have to tell you there will be a lot of high self-esteem and hot air. I need a medic who can handle hotshots." He grinned at her. "So, what do you say?"
Karin grinned back. "I don't get some time to think it over?"
"Sure you do." Anderson looked down at his antique wristwatch exaggeratedly, then back up. "Time's up."
"As our marines would no doubt say, sir... bring it on." Karin rose and walked over to her personal locker, fishing out a bottle of brandy and two glasses. "I'd say this calls for a toast, wouldn't you?"
Karin poured the drinks, and passed one across to Anderson. "Cheers, sir. To new adventures."
"So, do any of these hotshots have names? I feel I should know my enemy in advance."
"We'll make a strategist of you, yet, Doc. I have Charles Pressly as my Navigator, and Adams has already agreed to transfer." Anderson chuckled. "I showed him the design specs for the engines and I think he fell in love." His expression became sly. "Reckon you might have some competition there, Karin."
Karin kept her tone carefully blank. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about. Sir." Her slow-burning relationship, if it could even be called that, with the Tokyo's Chief Engineer was no one's business but theirs.
Anderson smiled wryly. "Whatever you say, Doctor. Anyway, beyond that I don't have any confirmed thoughts, though I know who I'd like as my XO."
"Oh? Not Commander Cole, then?"
"No. Cole's a good officer, but he's pretty pedestrian. I need someone with a little more... dash."
"And who would that be?"
Anderson drained his drink. "Rachel Shepard."
Karin frowned in thought. "The name's familiar, but..."
"It should be. You served through the Skyllian Blitz, didn't you?"
Karin snapped her fingers as the memory surfaced. "Elysium, of course." She took a thoughtful sip from her drink. "I've never met her."
"You'll like her," Anderson promised. "I've known her since she was a baby; she's a great kid. And she's just about the best soldier I've ever seen. Good leadership instincts, level-headed, cares about the people she commands. She'll do well in the role."
"Not one of those damn-fool heroes, then?" Karin asked with a smile; it was clear Anderson thought very highly of this woman. "Not one of those ones I'll spend all my time patching up and arguing with about medical restrictions? I'm getting too old for that kind of aggravation."
"Nah. She's smarter than that. And anyway, the first cruise will be a shakedown run, a couple of months of grandstanding, so she shouldn't have an opportunity to get anything more than paper cuts." Anderson chuckled as he got to his feet. "Well, I'd better get back to it. Thanks for the drink, Doc, and for being up for a challenge. I feel better for having you on my team."
"It's my pleasure, and privilege, sir," Karin replied. "I'm looking forward to serving on... what's the ship going to be called?"