Chapter 4: Never That Simple

The repairs had been going much more smoothly since Tali and O'Brien had figured out how to link the Starfleet commbadges with the Normandy crew's communication systems. Shepard was able to coordinate both crews' repair efforts all over the ship, while still putting her own engineering expertise to good use. She'd gotten more non-combat use out of her omni-tool since arriving on Deep Space Nine than in the last several months combined, she thought grimly. On the one hand, it was nice to be able to use it for something besides dispensing medi-gel, overloading shields, or incinerating armor. On the other… well, Normandy was in bad shape. And the Reapers were still out there while she languished here.

Shepard jumped as her comm chirped in her ear, shaking her out of her dark thoughts. That, she hadn't yet gotten used to. "Bashir to Shepard."

She keyed her comm with the back of one sooty hand. "This is Shepard. What can I do for you, Doctor?"

"There's been an incident. Doctor Chakwas and I need to see you in the infirmary immediately."

Shit. "I'm on my way." Shepard wiped her hands on her coveralls as she sprinted for the docking bay. "Is everyone all right? What happened?"

Bashir's voice over the line was urgent. "It's Liara and Wrex, Commander. We don't think they're in any immediate danger, but you'd better get down here."

The elevator—turbolift—wasn't as painfully slow as Normandy's, but the ride to the station's core still seemed interminable. Shepard fidgeted with worry until the doors opened, but tried to maintain a semblance of calm as she wove through the omnipresent crowds of the Promenade toward the infirmary.

Doctors Bashir and Chakwas were arguing with Wrex to keep him from leaving. The krogan Battlemaster had always chafed under medical care, but judging by his glassy eyes and wavering posture, he was in no shape to leave. Liara lay unconscious on a bed at the far end of the ward, tended to by a bajoran nurse.

"Shepard!" Wrex all but roared as she entered. "Maybe you can convince these two to let me out of here."

Shepard raised her eyebrows. "Sorry, Wrex," she said with a shrug. "You look like hell. Sit down and cooperate."

Wrex grumbled, but complied.

"So, what's the situation?"

"Julian was introducing me to the delights of Tarkalian tea when the call came in that Liara had collapsed at Quark's," Chakwas began. "By the time we got there, she was in the midst of a grand mal seizure and bleeding from her nose and ears."

Some of Shepard's shock must have shown on her face, because Bashir swiftly cut in. "We've got her stabilized for now," he reassured her, "but she's not out of the woods yet."

"Commander, how much do you know about the biology of biotics?" Chakwas asked.

"Just what Kaiden told me," Shepard answered with a shrug. "That it's a result of in utero exposure to element zero."

Chakwas nodded. "Yes. That exposure causes nodules of eezo to form on the nervous system. With the exception of the asari, there is usually no other effect on the child, though sometimes brain tumors or other terminal cancers can result. About one in ten exposed humans, the occasional krogan, and all asari are born with biotic abilities that can be developed and trained."

Pieces were beginning to fall into place. "Liara and Wrex are the only two biotics on our crew." She turned to Dr. Bashir. "Are any of DS9's biotics showing any symptoms?"

Bashir shook his head, his eyes wide. "Commander, there are no biotics on Deep Space Nine. Or anywhere in Starfleet, or the Federation, or the known galaxy. So far was we know… element zero doesn't exist in this universe."

Years of command experience had trained Shepard to keep any anxiety off her face and out of her voice. Secretly, though, her heart pounded and her stomach churned. "What does that mean for Liara and Wrex?"

"The eezo in their bodies is destabilizing." Dr. Chakwas was never one to sugarcoat things, one of the traits that had earned her Shepard's undying respect. She delivered bad news gently, but didn't try to soften the blow with euphemisms or false hope. "It's beginning to cause nerve damage. If we can't find a way to slow the decay, I'd give them a prognosis of about three days before the damage is irreversible. And they'll be in pain."

"Karin and I are close to being able to synthesize painkillers that will be effective for each of them," Bashir added. "Most of the Normandy's medical stores were destroyed in the fires, so we have to work with what we have here."

Shepard's heart sank. "So, all you can do is keep them comfortable, is that what you're saying?"

"I'm afraid so," Bashir said, a little sadly. "The destabilization is being caused by a minor variance in the laws of physics between your universe and ours. The only way to stop it is to get them home."

"We're not giving up just yet, though," Chakwas assured her. "However, it would help to have a few samples of element zero to experiment with—the power cells from a couple of rifles should do the trick."

"Consider it done." Shepard keyed her comm. "James, you still got those old Vindicator Twos taking up space down there in the Armory?"

"Sure. You and Garrus gonna go shoot some bottles off the top of the Promenade?"

"Real cute, Vega. I need you to pull the eezo cores and send them to DS9's infirmary. But be careful—they might be unstable."

"The infirmary?" Shepard could almost hear him shrug, could picture look on his face that so clearly said My commander is a crazy woman when he wouldn't dream of saying it aloud. "Whatever you say, Lola."

Bashir looked at Chakwas. "We should probably get some help from the engineering crews, too."

Engineering.

Chakwas's reply was drowned out by the sound of blood thundering in Shepard's ears as the full implications of the situation became clear. Engineering. The drive core. "You'll have whoever we can spare," the commander said, "but they may have bigger fish to fry."

Both doctors looked confused, then understanding dawned on Chakwas's face. "There's eezo in Normandy's drive core. A lot of it. If it goes critical—"

Shepard nodded grimly. "We're all dead."