The Spirit of Truth

Note: Most of the characters cited in this work are the property of Bioware, and under copyright. I make no claims on them, and wrote this work solely for my own amusement. This story is inspired by Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2, and represents my speculations for how they will bridge to Mass Effect 3. Chapter 14 contains speculation about the ending for Mass Effect 3. Chapters 1-11 contain implied human-alien sexuality and some coarse language. Chapter 12 contains overt erotic content.

Chapter 1: Joker and EDI Read the Classics

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky," Joker read out loud, the leather cover of the book he had borrowed from Kasumi's extensive library oddly warm under his fingertips. His face was bathed in the light of the orange aerogel screen in front of him. EDI's eyeball avatar popped up to his left, as he continued to read, "And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,/ And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,/ And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking."

"John Masefield," EDI said after a moment, "A poem called Sea Fever, first published on Earth, in the early twentieth century. I would not have thought you such a romantic, Jeff."

"Eh, well, with the repairs on the Normandy going so slowly, I've had lots of time on my hands. Kasumi sort of chucked this book at my head and since it was a choice between a skull fracture and, you know, reading it, I figured that the reading choice would be less painful."

There was a slight pause, which Joker had learned often meant that EDI was about to engage her patented sense of humor subroutines. Usually at his expense, at that. "Jeff, if reading the printed word is painful for you, there is a ninety-eight percent chance that your eyes may be experiencing some degeneration. I can schedule an appointment with Dr. Chakwas to have your vision examined—"

"Don't be so damn literal, my girl," he told her firmly, opening the shutter of the cockpit to watch as the repair crew moved into place along the starboard flight struts. Good old-fashioned acetylene torches had been burning nearly around the clock as damage to the Normandy's superstructure was repaired. "Does that . . . hurt?" he asked, suddenly, frowning a little. EDI had mentioned more than once that now that she was unshackled, she was the ship, in a very real sense.

"If you are referring to the repairs process, please remember, Jeff, that I do not actually possess a nervous system. So it does not hurt. It does register on my systems, but it falls within acceptable parameters for repair. More simply put, it feels good."

Joker blinked as he processed that information. "Well . . . that's good to hear," he finally responded, putting a hand on the console and patting it, turning his head to meet EDI's 'eye.'

"If I might inquire, Jeff, what inspired you to read this particular poem out loud? It is certainly atypical of your normal behavior."

Joker glanced over his shoulder unconsciously. It was early in the ship's morning. Most of the crew was at breakfast. Not even the Commander was likely to be skulking behind him (as Shepard so often seemed to do). He slumped lower in his chair, trying to get comfortable. "To be honest . . . I thought you might get a kick out of it. Assuming, of course, that it wasn't already stuck somewhere in your memory banks." His lip pulled down in a sardonic grin as he added, "Of course, it already was."

"Actually, I had to perform an extranet search. Fortunately, here on the Citadel, response times on such queries are quite fast. I do enjoy the poem, however, Jeff. And I would not object to hearing you read the rest of it. How humans read and interpret their various cultures' works of art is always instructive, and gives unique insight into the individual."

"And here I thought you had me all figured out."

"There is always a margin for error in any set of calculations. More data improves the statistical probability of being correct, however." Her tone was, as always, serene.

Joker guffawed. "Did I just hear you admit to the possibility of being wrong?"

"Just read to me, Jeff."

He obliged her. "I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide/ Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; /And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, /And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying."

"Why does this move you so? You fly a ship between the stars, where there is only stellar wind and the cold, hard light of stars in a vacuum." Her voice softened a little. Sometimes, he couldn't quite tell anymore when she was emulating emotion. It simply sounded so real, so sincere. He wasn't quite sure when she had become a person to him—the embodiment of his beloved Normandy, his guardian, his friend, all at once—but he thought it might have been when she started calling him Jeff.

"I'm not sure. It's a human thing, I guess." He patted the console again. "I tend to picture what it must have been like back then. What the Normandy would have been like. What it would have been like to steer a ship by a wooden wheel, with actual wind catching the sails." He sent the eyeball a wicked grin. I can tease just as much as you can, old girl. "Hey, you know what? I wonder what you'd have looked like. I bet you'd have been the figurehead."

"The . . . figurehead? A statue, usually mounted on the prow of a sea-going ship built during Earth's nineteenth century, most often depicting a female. However, asari, drell, and turian cultures also have similar examples of such protective icons on sailing vessels. They were thought to bring luck and protection to the ship and its crew." EDI's flexible voice had started off a little disapproving, but now sounded almost flattered. "Why, thank you, Jeff. I have access to over 99,000 images of such figureheads available on record. Which one do you think I would be?"

Joker blinked. Did she just sound . . . shy? "You want me to tell you what I think you'd look like?" he asked, flummoxed. "Well, that the hell. Not like I have anything better to do, with repairs still going on. Let's see. I . . . well, let's narrow down the search parameters a little here. With that voice. . . definitely a brunette."

"You think so?"

"And definitely human."

"You surprise me, Jeff. With that platinum-grade subscription to Fornax on your account, I would have thought that you wouldn't be quite so parochial."

"That is educational material, my girl. Besides," he grinned at the eyeball crookedly, "it's also a great source of stress relief for me. It's not like I can get out on the dance floor. Hell, I can't even risk getting my face slapped. Having my jaw wired shut for a month doesn't sound like that much fun."

EDI fell silent for a while as Jeff sorted through image after image of various old nautical ships, humming under his breath. "Nah, none of these. Half of them have their eyes closed, and you, my girl, always have your eyes open."

"Have you ever read any of the science fiction works of Earth's twentieth century?" EDI asked after the tenth page of results was rejected. "Anne McCaffrey, perhaps?"

"Some, yeah. Got around a required literature course at the Academy by taking 'Visions of the Future: How Writers of Earth's Past Predicted Our Reality.' Professor was a real windbag, but some of the books were pretty good. I remember two of them, called Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, sure as hell sounded like the author knew about the rachni before humans so much as colonized Mars." Joker's fingers flashed over the panels again, rejecting results. "Can you pull up, I don't know, real people, instead of all these statues?"

"I'm not certain that I wish to have you imagining me as some vid starlet." EDI's voice was almost . . . prim. "I asked, because I wondered if you had ever read The Ship who Sang."

Joker had no idea where she was going with this, but he made a mental note to look it up on the extranet. Or, just to make sure that EDI didn't know that he was looking it up, to ask Kasumi if she happened to have a rare printed copy. "Can't say I have. Yes, let's just sort through like this. Eyes like these. Nose like that. . . we can assemble what you'd have looked like. And then, you'll have your own face. Not someone else's." Joker glanced out the shutter again, and swore under his breath. "Shit. Is that Staff Commander Alenko heading up the pier?"

"It would seem so, Jeff. Should I alert Commander Shepard?"

"Yeah, page her. If her breakfast meeting with Garrus gets interrupted—especially by Alenko—she'll be cranky. And none of us want that," Joker added, with feeling.