Chapter 4


"How much further, EDI?" Joker wiped the sweat from his forehead and replaced his hat. He'd never been one to be claustrophobic, having been in cockpits and bridges all his career, but as he crawled across the ship in the slim tube used by the Engineers to make repairs with only very little lighting--in some places none at all--he felt like the walls were closing in on him.

"You are doing well, Jeff." EDI's voice was pleasant but soft, coaxing him along. "There are only five more meters before there is a sharp turn towards the Engineering shaft."

His knees ached just thinking about it. "Five meters?"

"You can do it, Jeff."

He took a breath and continued to crawl, his every move haunted by Kelly's screams as she was dragged into the elevator by a--he didn't know what it was. Joker had been too paralyzed to do much more than watch as Hawthorne had been thrown into the wall and Kelly had been captured by the creatures. It took every last nerve he had to wait behind the bulkhead until the elevator doors had closed to move as fast as he could to the med ward.

"Why didn't they use those bug things Mordin was studying to subdue the crew?" Joker asked when he reached the turn EDI had referred to.

"I do not know," the AI told him. "There is not enough data to form a hypothesis. One assumption would be that they were not expecting resistance from the crew."

Joker backed his way onto the ladder and climbed down. "Think they were expecting Shepard to be here?"

"I do not know. There is not enough data to make an assumption."

After getting his ass chewed out by Miranda and Shepard for losing the crew and unshackling EDI, Joker wanted to hit something.

But hitting something meant fracturing something so he only hobbled up to the bridge when Shepard ordered him, his knees continuing to ache from the long crawl across the ship and the fall in Engineering.

God, there were a lot of empty chairs.

He did as Shepard instructed him, setting course for the Omega 4 Relay. Then he sent an email to Ashley. Hell, after this, he may never see her again. Might as well tell her.

It was thirty minutes before they arrived at the Omega 4 when Ashley responded. He grinned as he read it.

To: Jeff Moreau (joker2183-sr1 at sr2. eldfell-ashland-group. term. net. oz)
Sent: July 27, 2185 04:18 UT
From: Ashley Williams (ashley. m. williams at h. embassy. citadel. mil. sa)
Subject: RE: (no subject specified)


Are you alright? Stupid question. Of course you're not. You're in my prayers. Please be careful.

I can't take back what I said before, and I'm sorry that we haven't talked since Horizon. I said a lot of stupid stuff. I don't expect you to forgive me, but I am sorry for what I said. You obviously had a crappy birthday and I'm sorry for that... Old Man. I didn't expect either of you to be working for Cerberus and certainly never expected Shepard to be raised from the dead. Take care of the Skipper for me. I can't lose her a second time, Joker. Don't let her die again.

I don't want to lose what we have. You survive the encounter with Collectors and I'll take you up on that offer all those months ago about a night out on the Citadel. Meet me on September 20th. I'll let you know where and the time on September 19th.

Stay safe and rip the Collectors a new one for me.

For what it's worth--I love you, too, you jackass. Don't you dare die on me.


P.S. - Right back at you:
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

This message originated from an Alliance military network. It has been censored at transmission source for security purposes. Any reply may be read by military authorities.

--Original Message--

To: Ashley Williams (ashley. m. williams at h. embassy. citadel. mil. sa)
Sent: July 27, 2185 02:44 UT
From: Jeff Moreau (joker2183-sr1 at sr2. eldfell-ashland-group. term. net. oz)
Subject: (no subject specified)


I fucked up again and got the crew abducted by the Collectors and unleashed the ship's AI. Yeah. An AI. EDI. She's actually pretty cool now that she isn't blocked by protocols. Snarky as hell and likes to pick on me. You would like her, come to think about it. She's not "I will kill you for just being organic". She's more "I think faster than you bitches, and you will know my Overlorditude." It's cute really. Like Mom. Only not.

Shepard's okay. She and her team weren't on board when I screwed the pooch. Shepard's pissed. You know things explode when Shepard gets pissed.

We're heading into the Omega 4 Relay to take back the crew and save the colonists. According to EDI it leads directly into the Galactic Core. Scary shit. I won't say things are rosy, because they aren't. We probably won't make it. I just wanted you to know that if I don't make it, there's a note for my mom, sister and you at the Citadel. I've enclosed the codes to get to it. You aren't allowed to read it if I survive. No buts. Don't even think about it.

You were the greatest friend I could have ever hoped for. Still are, even if you hate my guts. Did I tell you how proud I am of your promotion? You deserved it.

Geeze, I sound like a sap. Being on a suicide mission does that to you. Wouldn't recommend it. Not healthy at all. I think you get the gist of what I'm trying to say. And I mean it. I have no doubts that Shepard will succeed, but this is worse than Virmire. People will die. I may be one of them. But you know, if it sets back the Reapers even a little, Shepard stick my ass on a flag for all I care. (I care a little, don't get me wrong. That sounds painful.)

Stay safe, Doll. Wish us luck.


P. S. - Some Tennyson for you. See? I listen.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark


I hope this wasn't too sappy or out of character for either Joker or Ashley. Feedback welcomed.

Crossing the Bar
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.