A spacecraft isn't quite like a home; it takes longer to get settled in, and even once you do there's always the feeling that at any moment you might start falling.
I've missed flying. Can't deny that; the psychoanalysts would say that I missed being in control of something, and maybe that's true. Can't control much sitting around at home waiting for something that doesn't feel like it's ever going to come, because it's not and she's dead, the Alliance has politely told you to shove off, you've got some kinda PTSD and also lost your ship and commanding officer, and all the things that we—
But that's over now. She's back.
It's not the same; we get beds, for one. That's nice. I didn't catch on to Shepard soon enough to avoid my pod more than a couple times. This Normandy is new and shiny, and I can't resist running my hand along the wall as I walk down the hall to Engineering. Hold together, baby, hold together—
She died and they named a new ship after her, and that just wasn't done on Earth but I guess it is now. That or we just can't get any more bad luck.
I still miss her, even though she's still here. I can hear the footsteps in Engineering as soon as the door opens, so I know Shepard's in there even though she's around the corner, toward the drive core. I haven't quite gotten used to not having that missing, falling feeling.
It's work to get through the hallways and the elevator, but not as much as it would have been before Cerberus put me under. I was afraid to walk, at first, and then finally convinced myself that my ankles weren't going to collapse. Good times. It's like running a marathon to get down here, but I wanted to see the ship before we had to leave the station, and get a feel for her. This second Normandy is bigger, with less emphasis on the stealth and reconnaissance part, since in two years mass drive technology could be made smaller than before. She's got more luxury than the first one, since she isn't following Alliance specs.
Shepard, though…she's gone so mechanical. We didn't have the most lovey-dovey relationship in the world, but that hug she gave me on the gantry was—I could have thought she was trying to test how far I could be pushed now, except that…it was like being hugged by a YMIR, just smaller and jumpier. She said she missed me and I looked at the round sides of the Normandy (except it wasn't painted with "Normandy" then), and said I'd missed her too. Her arms didn't bend, like for once she was the one who wasn't quite sure whether her body was okay with working today.
She's Shepard, sure. I know that voice. I know those last words.
I interrupted your death rattle, baby, and I'm sorry.
When I get down into Engineering proper Shepard is already there, investigating something near the neon blue eye of the drive core. There's omnitool holograms climbing up her arms and a loose wire next to her, snaking out from a lumpy metal circle. She drags cables into her lap and links up the omnitool and stares into the blinking little readings. There's more cables draped over her calves, and that's so unexpectedly hot that I don't even notice at first the way her hands still look sliced open. I saw the scars—not even scars, they're not healed enough for that—Cerberus left her when we first met up, but they're still fiery livid, Underneath a red crevasse on the back of her hand I swear I see something silver move.
She says, "It's not right." Spiral-etched wire spines shift between her fingers. "It's not right."
I sit beside her, palm to hip to knee. "She's fraying already?"
"It's the lights. Too bright."
"It's like Lazarus. I woke up and there was too much light." She doesn't look up from under her hair. She is digging into wires with broken nails.
I reach out to take her hand off the wire. "She's fine. You could, you know, use the switch."
She tears off a patch of insulation. Bits of it snow to the floor like the dust after a fight. I feel a sudden protectiveness for the ship—for the skin inside of it instead of outside. I don't often have reason to come down here. "Stop it. I'm not even sure this wire goes to the lights. You're hurting her."
She keeps digging. I finally scoot forward and push her hand off the wire and one of the bundles of cords off her lap. It is metal running across the top of her hand; at least, it doesn't feel like skin.
"I've done a lot for you, commander, but I'm not gonna be the audience of one for your 'I've gone crazy' show."
She seems saner as she looks up. "That's not how you're supposed to talk to a grieving person."
"What are you grieving for? You're alive. You've got this shiny new body. You've just gotta not electrocute yourself."
And I remember what I came down here for.
I say, "You let her die."
She looks up at me. "So did you."
I say, "I did what you told me. Commander."
Suddenly she takes my hand in that steel-backed grip and makes me threaten her, pulls until my palms are back on the floor next to her shoulders and her steely new body is flat under me, I just follow. I take the path that doesn't break.
She says, "You think I killed her."
"Yes I do," I say, and look at the thumb-thick silver lines on the floor and the changing, almost underwater light of the reactor core, and kiss her.
She fights it at first and we both knew that's a show. It always has been.
Then she lays back and sighs between white teeth (without the chipped canine, without the scar across her left eyebrow). She says, "It wasn't my fault."
"You drew them to us, you wanted to get out…" I pick up one hand and flatten it back against the floor. She's toying with me. Making me think I might be able to threaten her.
"Joker," she says, and puts that metal-spined hand around the back of my neck to draw me closer. "I don't have a body any more."
I say, "Yes you do. And that doesn't have anything to do with her."
She says, "Yes it does."
"What happened to you?"
She says, "I don't know."
Then, "What if it does? We fell together, Joker. Maybe it was part of her that opened my suit. If there's any of me left maybe there's dust of her in it." She turns away to lay her cheek against the deck plates and pressures on my neck, but it isn't a threat anymore; just a familiarity.
The nearly-broken wire is waiting, sparking inside it. I'm not quite sure what it would do to her cybernetic body, but it would do what electrocution does to anything else with organic parts. Mine too, if I stay here.
I sit up.
She does too and moves farther away, closer to the drive core and the middle of the hallway. The deck is still empty. On the bridge, cameras are seeing this but forgetting it since I havn't told them to record. The AI is seeing this and staying silent, and I have absolutely no idea what that meant.
She said that the Normandy killed her and I killed her and I killed both of them, and she could kill me now.
We didn't have a room like this on the old ship. The drive core was so military and public.
I drag the frayed wire across the ground.
She moves across the gantry like a sidewinder, odd and sick and dragging. Maybe the odd comes from the fact that even though her skin is perforated by the Lazarus scars it still looks so young.
She puts a hand against my cheek. "Why don't you pretend I'm her?" She says, but now her skin is warm, pliable, and alien. Our first meeting after her death should have been like this.
I drag the cord around and crack it against the ground like a glow stick. The lights on the gantry go out, leaving us in halfhearted black and the sharp blue of the drive core. I pull the broken cord toward her leg, thinking about the black curve of the flightsuit.
She grabs the cord and flings it away. I don't resist. I do when she bunches the front of my uniform in her fist and pushes us both to our feet, but that's a show too. She knows the breaking point of my body as well as she knows anybody else's, better because one condition of our relationship is that she couldn't kill me. She knows in sighs and shifts and complaints instead of in science, in force-per-inch and pressure points.
So she knows it's a quiet threat when I groan and lean my head against her shoulder like she hurt me, which she hasn't. Not quite.
She says, "I could blame you. My mother says I should."
Of course she called Hannah. I'm surprised we didn't visit; the conversation must not have gone well, if it's even possible for a conversation involving 'the daughter you thought was dead is actually alive' to not go well. I say, "She never liked me."
"She sensed something." Shepard has both hands at my collar and lifts me off my feet without straining a finger. She bends my back over the railing. The drive core is a drop into a tangle of electricity and gravity, just close enough so I can tell exactly how damaging a fall it would be if I survived the way down.
But the new Normandy won't kill me like that. I named her.
I mirror Shepard, pulling her collar up into my grip so that neither of us are grounded except by her boots.
We brace like that until I break the stare.
I lean back against the blue. "I lost both of you."
She lets me stand. "So did I."
She sinks down and I follow her to the floor. We sit there like kids that just got their action figures taken away. Her hands return to herself.
She says, "Pretend I'm her."
I fit in beside her and get an arm around her waist. She is warm and welcoming now, as if she has been missing me after all instead of just herself. I kiss her cheek, her neck, her shoulder.
I say, "You always thought I was her," and her hands creep over my shoulder blades to scratch lightly at the back of my neck.
She says, " I missed you," and nearly crawls into my lap.
I let her. "I know."
The cord, broken and open, is still lying on the floor.
A distant door admits loud, enthusiastic footsteps. Shepard and I home toward the sound and stand up, both of us using the walls and the railings to help tired legs.
It's the red-haired engineer, Donnely, parading around the central hub. He says, "What happened down here? Need to change a light bulb already?" He squinted. "Is that you, commander?"
"No," Shepard says, and steps out of the gloom. She says, "Just a worn cable."
Donnely didn't seem to find it weird that she answered both questions with one answer. "Things these days!" He walks between us to pick up the cable, but then jumps back as if he had been stung. "This is live! Ach. I'll patch it up. They don't make 'em like they used to."
"Sure, Ken," I say. I didn't like him touching her.
Shepard repeats, "Everything's fine," and walks out, footsteps clicking as if she wore heels instead of combat boots. I follow her.
Later, I have to report the fact that she might have been trying to hurt herself. Not because I'm just that military, but because I don't want to be at the thin point of a ship whose commander isn't in control of herself. I'm brave, but I'm not sitting back and looking at it while there's danger in front of me. I tell His Illusiveness, who tells me not to worry about it. I don't think he cares whether she's sane or not as long as he's got…what? Her face for the aliens to make nice to? Her combat experience? Maybe it's all about her body, packed with metal and chips that reduce the flow of electricity, changes that I can't see even though I walk Normandy's halls and see those changes every day.
The Alliance would have wanted to put her in an hospital, but she's not Alliance any more.
Usually when I tell this story I start with "I've fallen in love twice."
Naumachiae. (n.) a mock sea fight, given as a spectacle among the ancient Romans.