A/N I've decided to restart writing this stuff after quite the long hiatus... It's been forever, I know, forgive me if you're feeling particularly kind. I've been doing lots and lots with the Mass Effect universe still (ironically, at a site known as Mass Effect Universe on Zetaboard, an online forum RPing site, if you're interested). But, I'm back with a new installment of this story for anyone who's truly interested.
So sit back, get your reading glasses on, and enjoy the story.
It was more of a dull pain now, rather than the incredibly sharp sensation that there had been when he'd woken up yesterday from unconsciousness. Now... When he woke up, it was just a dull throbbing in parts of his body, especially in his stomach and hip.
But it was a hell of a lot better than it'd been yesterday. Yesterday, he'd done his best to merely grin and bear it when he'd been talking to Tali. The conversation had intrigued him, yes. It'd been great to have the chance to talk with someone who knew him for who everyone expected him to be. But he'd been painfully aware of how badly his wounds had been bothering him throughout the entire conversation. As such... He'd been a bit less attentive than he was sure he'd be otherwise, a bit less observant as his mind sometimes went to the spikes of pain he could feel running through his entire body.
Today though... He felt a lot better after a full nights sleep after Tali had left. He'd basically fallen right back onto the medical table and passed right out. Actually... Something told him that he was feeling a lot better than he would have in any other situation.
So much better that he swung his legs of the side of the table after he pulled himself upright and tested his weight on his legs as he slowly eased himself it I put weight on his still tired legs. A single sharp pain came from a damaged nerve when he accidentally put too weight on his right leg, his hip screaming at him in protest. He staggered forwards, catching himself on another medical table that was two or three forwards from the table he'd been on.
Shepard let out low hiss as he straightened himself, keeping an arm on the table to keep weight off of the leg as he waited for the pain to dull slightly. He massaged the area that hurt with his other hand as he balances against the medical table, allowing himself to let out another slow breath as he recovered from the surprise that he was still in that much pain from the wounds.
How long will it take for me to get back up to where I was just yesterday...? He couldn't help but wonder to himself as he steadied himself, taking a tentative step forwards in the cramped room, glad when his leg didn't give out beneath him. Looking good... Shepard told himself, happy with the fact that it seemed like he would be a bit more mobile today.
Maybe he could find Tali'Zorah, talk with her for a bit... Maybe surprise her by the fact that he was already able to walk around, or... Well, hobble at least. Yesterday, the way that Tali had been talking with him and the tone of Miranda's email had both seemed to believe that it'd be a week or so before he'd even be out of the bed. Good to see that he'd continue to impress.
Shepard turned to the voice that appeared. Obviously. It was a Quarian, with some type of unfamiliar symbol on it, but the same sterile white and red that he somehow drew parallels to medicine from. The sudden noise startled him slightly, and he was aware that he might've turned a bit too quickly when another pain flared in his side.
"What in the name of the ancestors do you think you are doing on your feet?". The Quarian asked him slowly... By the build, it looked like it was a male Quarian, by the suit, some type of medic or doctor. Probably not the best person to catch him out of bed. The tone of his voice told it all... Surprised, and a little perturbed by the fact that he was out of bed. It was probably best if he just apologized and explained that he was feeling a hell of a lot better.
"Sorry... Just decided to see if I would be able to move around." Shepard said after a second, shrugging as he made his way back to his own impromptu bed, very aware of the Quarian's glowing eyes on him as he made his way back. He got a very distinct impression that screwing around with someone in the medical field wasn't a good thing... Especially not while he was still under their care.
He sat down on the edge of the table, turning to look back at the Quarian, who was typing furiously into his omni-tool. There was a moment of silence before the doctor looked back to him, his stance seeming to speak more of the surprise that'd been in his voice just a moment earlier. The doctor muttered something beneath his breath as he actually entered the room, gathering a few instruments and placing them together on a table before he spoke.
"Keelah... I wasn't even expecting that you'd be up, Commander.". He said slowly, shaking his head. "Let alone walking around. You took a round right in the hip, by all rights you should be bedridden for the next few weeks.". There was a certain amount of uncertainty behind the statement, but it was behind another layer of wonder at the fact.
Shepard blinked at the statement, taking a moment or two to think about the fact himself. Yesterday, when he'd gone down, his body had simply refused to move when he'd commanded it to. Unnatural as it had been, maybe the reaction had something to do with his rapid recovery. He was thinking about the fact that he seemed to be surpassing all the rates of recovery everyone believed he would have to adhere to when the Quarian continued.
"The fact that you are managing to stand is… Astounding, actually, Commander. I've brushed up a little bit on your species, medically. Your body is healing at an… Extraordinary pace, Commander." He said slowly, bringing up a few diagrams on his omni-tool. They all seemed to be of human systems, the skeleton, the various organ-systems and other medically relevant data. "After the injuries you sustained, by all rights, you should have died. Again, if what I'm told is true." The Quarian said slowly, shaking his head as he closed the holograms, looking at Shepard. "Do you mind if I run a few scans, see what it might be that's allowing you to heal so quickly?" The question was asked hesitantly, as if the Doctor were afraid of offending him.
It took a moment's thought before Shepard silently nodded his consent to the Quarian. He had to weigh the idea briefly… Cerberus probably wouldn't be too happy with the tech they'd spent so much money on being examined by anyone else. But if it looked like he was avoiding showing the Quarians his implants, they might think that there was some ill-intent behind them. Something inherently 'bad' about whatever the cybernetics in his body were. And the more he'd thought about it recently… The more he'd realized that Cerberus' opinions didn't matter to him nearly as much as he'd thought they would.
They'd brought him back from the dead. In his mind, all that he owed them was a thank-you. He didn't owe them the remainder of his life. Now that there was a possibility of him getting into real contact with those who knew him from before he died… People who he felt her could inherently trust. Maybe he wouldn't be forced into working for the whole organization after all.
"Go for it." He said after nodding, the Quarian appearing relieved as he nodded, and began to show the Commander how he wanted him to sit for the various scans he would be subjecting himself to.
Tali was tired when she woke up… She'd worked late into the third cycle to finish her reports, and a half a dozen other things to do with the mission's aftermath. Normally, she'd have managed to get even more done over the course of time that she'd used to tear through the deskwork. But Shepard had been on her mind. And whenever she found herself getting distracted, her thoughts slowly and inevitably turned to her old Commander.
Shepard… She slowly thought to herself as she slowly stretched in her own cramped personal quarters, her mind turning back to the topic as she slowly began to let her mind wander as she allowed herself to half-doze again.
The human who was only fifty feet away from her, who had survived a million things… Including death itself.
The man who had saved her from almost certain death on a half-dozen occasions, each time putting himself into danger to ensure that she wasn't. Who she'd done the same for on an equal number of occasions, elated even when her only reward was his gratitude. The man who'd shown her how to be a leader… Drawn together the squad that she missed. The squad who, despite their difference, had managed to save the galaxy.
Well over two years ago, she could still remember the exact moment of realization for her that she had a 'crush' on the Commander. And quite honestly, she had managed to put it all away, to tell herself that it'd been some childish thing that would go in passing. It made her feel good though, to see that both Ashley and Liara had made passes at him to be gently rebuked. She figured that it'd been the allure of just how… Perfect, Shepard seemed. No matter how often he admitted otherwise, no matter the rare moments where he certainly fell below the line of being perfect. He was a god amongst men, in her eyes two years ago.
But… She'd realized of course, that it might just be a fancy, something that she just wanted because she saw him through such a lens that he could do no wrong. For a few weeks, back on the Normandy, she'd done her absolute best to see him for exactly what he was… She'd done her best to cast away the ideas she'd held about him briefly, judging him on merely the present.
It'd made her even more bashful whenever she spoke with him. He made a point to talk with everyone on the combat team frequently, as well as with the rest of the ship's crew. He also had made it a point to keep order on his ship, to place incredible values on equality among his crew, and justice whenever something happened.
She could remember an incident with Pressly… He'd made some comment that she'd found vulgar, regarding not trusting Quarians as technicians when he'd been talking to Chief Engineer Adams. Tali had decided to make a few… Vocal remarks in return to the XO. From there, it'd descended into a bit of a shouting match over the intercoms. Human and Quarian vulgarities had flown in both directions, the tempers of both of the normally calm members of the Normandy's crew at a breaking point after they'd just lost Kaidan on Virmire.
It'd been enough that it caught Shepard's attention… Enough so that he called both her and Pressly up to what the humans referred to as 'Captain's Mast', a term for when the ship's Captain was able to hand out low-level punishment for any infractions that'd been committed on board his ship. Tali had been quite terrified, and Pressly equally so as they'd both sat opposite one another at the Mess Hall, waiting for Shepard to dole out whatever punishments he deemed fit for the entire episode.
His 'sentence' at first had seemed like it would be impossibly difficult, and mind-numbingly difficult to both Tali and the Normandy's XO. They would have to tolerate one another's company for an hour a day until Shepard said otherwise. On the time that they weren't working their own posts… On free time.
After only a few days, the silence that went on between the two during the time they were forced to be in one another's company was broken. Two days after that, that they both had vast knowledge on their respective peoples' history was found out. For another week and a half afterwards… They'd spent the whole time allotted to them, and sometimes more, explaining to one another their cultures and their peoples' history. It'd went from a time that they both certainly dreaded, and blamed the other entirely for, to something that they both looked forwards to.
As probably the most xenophobic of the Normady's crew… Getting Pressly to turn around and finally admit that he'd been wrong was a fairly major turning point for the whole crew. And for Tali specifically, when she'd realized that the whole 'punishment' had actually been quite the gift, with how she and Pressly had worked everything out. In the end, she'd even thanked him once, when they'd been talking for what his decision had been.
And there he was… Not more than fifty feet away from her, through a few bulkheads. Back from the dead.
And that was how easily her mind wandered to the subject. Tali realized it as she opened her omni-tool to check the time since she'd woken up…. She'd been sitting there for almost ten minutes. Ten minutes of her own time that she'd wasted, along with time that the rest of the ship's crew could have used if they needed her. She was being selfish and lazy again.
A little frustrated with herself, Tali sat on the side of her bed, beginning to scroll through the messages on her omni-tool, starting with the oldest. Most were just status updates that required her to check off on them… That the ship's systems were all in line, that nothing was about to explode, basically.
A few minutes passed as Tali went through the long list of the periodic status checks, occasionally answering an email that'd come from a crew-member regarding some question usually regarding how something was done. Even as the commanding officer of the ship right now she was still regarded as the ship's authority on tech, as the chief engineer. Even for a Quarian, Tali knew that her tech skills were nearly unparalleled, and so did all of her subordinates. So they all took advantage of it where they could, and she did her best to help them with whatever minor problems they had with the ship's systems, or with ideas that they might have to make small improvements. All in all, it was something that didn't bother her too much and was something that helped to get the ship to run more efficiently more times than not. So… Sacrificing a half hour or so of her morning wasn't the worst thing in the world. Today though, there were a lot of questions it seemed, and all of her responses took a good forty minutes.
Tali couldn't help but groan as just when she finished sending her last reply to a query about how some wiring could be re-done her omni-tool rang out with the sound of another message.
So close… She thought to herself with a sigh as she reluctantly pulled it up, having it immediately grab her attention when she saw the subject and the sender.
From: Caern'Rein vas Neema
To: Tali'Zorah vas Neema
Subject: Commander Shepard vas Nada
Went on my rounds just a little while ago, your old Commander was already out of bed, walking around. Out of curiosity last night I was looking up a little bit about humans medically… Obviously regarding him being a patient. Based on his injuries, he shouldn't be up and walking around. Not that he shouldn't based on doctor's orders, but by all righs that he literally should not be able to use his legs for days afterwards.
Naturally, I was curious as to why his rate of healing was so high. Asked the Commander if I could take a few scans, see what cybernetic implants he might have that may be expediting the processes. He allowed it, so I took a few scans. Honestly… Medical expertise here might be less valuable than technical the implants are literally that extensive.
Please come down to medical ASAP to review the results with the Commander and myself.
Caern'Rein Vas Neema, Doctor of the Fleet.
Tali got to her feet, stretching in her confined personal quarters… Just enough room for a bed and a desk, but still, her own personal space. If Caern really wanted her to see this, it must be a matter of some concern for him, it'd probably be best to go down and do whatever he wanted immediately. She owed him that much for all the work he'd done last night… Trying to perform as many damned miracles as he could after the disaster of a mission on Freedom's Progress. That, combined with the fact that it was something to do with Shepard meant that it'd be her first take of the day.
She opened her room's door, stifling a yawn as she headed out in the direction of the small quarantine med-bay. She wondered how much desk-work she'd be saddled with today if the Fleet had managed to receive the entire log of what she'd sent yesterday. If she was lucky… They'd moved farther from com-buoys than they'd been right after the mission and the lapse between sending and receiving would be long enough to give her a break.
Honestly… Most of the time that Caern had spent last night reading into the basics of human anatomy had been completely wasted. When he was looking through the immediate results to the scans, his very first reaction had been to send and emial to Tali'Zorah to get her opinion on this. She was the Fleet's authority on tech, and she'd worked with the Commander before.
Maybe there was some way that she could explain how the Commander might not even qualify to be a human.
Caern had always thought that it was them that it was the Quarian people who had been on the cutting edge of cybernetics and other implants. It was one of their very few ways in which they might be able to one-day shed their trademark exosuits even without returning to the homeworld. But… Keelah… Shepard's implants made their most cutting edge technology seem almost pathetic.
Add that to the fact that something like half of his body mass seemed to be implants or other artificial structures, and that the other half carried trademarks of augmented cloned tissue. Most of the vital systems also seemed to be abnormal… His nervous system more direct, muscle fibers and bones both much denser than the norm.
He'd been a little… Wary, of the Commander being the real thing since he'd come on board. What were the chances of a dead man literally being brought back to life after two years?
But given the obvious levels of technology that'd been put into the man… It just might completely true. The technology was amazing, but could the have really outfitted anyone with such an extensive number of cybernetics without literally killing them? Would it really requite so much to actually bring someone back from the dead? Caern's knowledge of technology was up to par, especially in anything at all related to the Medical field… But this, this was way above his league.
Even Shepard seemed to be fairly impressed by the scan results as he looked at them by Caern's side as they both waited for Tali'Zorah.
Quite amazing… The amount of equipment in his body that wasn't really his own. That was artificial, put in him to keep him alive once Cerberus had brought him back from the dead. Apparently, his heart, liver, and lungs weren't even functioning the same way that they really ought to. They'd been made to be more efficient… To be able to do their respective jobs a dozen times better than they had before. The composition of his blood, based on a relatively simple test that the doctor requested a blood sample for showed that his oxygen carrying capacity was almost sixty percent higher than what they read was the norm.
And those three systems didn't even seem to count for half of the modifications and implants that'd been given to his body. Throw in most of his nervous system being synthetic, modified muscle fibers and enhanced bone structures as well as things that the doctor told him he couldn't find the reason behind and then you seemed to have it all down.
Really… Whatever Cerberus had done to him had made him barely fit the definition of being human anymore. He was more made out of bits and pieces, few of them being original parts. The doctor even said that a lot of the tissue carried certain genetic tags that were usually associated with cloned tissues.
The doctor, Caern, had actually suggested that he bring Tali down to take a look at a few of the implants whose functions he couldn't recognize. The engineer's proficiency with just about every type of tech might be able to explain some of the things that neither of them could figure out. Plus… Shepard couldn't help but feel that the unknown implants that he had might very well be a matter of concern for Caern. After all, he had apparently been brought back to life by one of the very few organizations whom the Quarians had an outstanding vendetta against.
When the door opened, Shepard looked up briefly to acknowledge Tali before gesturing to the hologram that showed a number of the scans results compiled into one representation. Caern stripped away a number of the systems… Bringing into view much more clearly the specific implants that Shepard and he had been talking about the purposes behind.
"Seems like Cerberus gave me more than a few improvements." Shepard said slowly as he pointed to the hologram as Tali approached slowly. "I'm pretty sure that the good doctor wants to know what some of the stranger implants might be doing." He said as he looked at the doctor, and pointed towards the hologram. Caern nodded, and pulled his own hands off of it so that Shepard could manipulate it. "I wouldn't mind knowing either…" He said slowly as he went to one place in particular.
Right to his skull, where there appeared to be something right in his brain.
"What is that…?" He asked slowly, stepping aside as he noticed that both Caern and Tali's eyes widened slightly. Caern, likely since he might have wanted to broach the topic later with Tali in private in case it was some… Control, that Cerberus may have outfitted him with. But Shepard wanted to know, now, if the organization had actually done that.
If they'd brought him back from the dead, why were they so afraid of him going off on his own if it were some type of control? Why were they so intent on him not knowing anything about them? Ever since he'd had a chance to talk with the Quarians on the ground team… His trust of the organization who'd brought him back to life was certainly diminishing rapidly.
Tali took control of the hologram, and slowly began to inspect the device in question. Shepard felt the hairs on the back on his neck seem to straighten as he contemplated the idea that his mind might not even be his own… If Cerberus is actually somehow controlling my mind or actions, or has some way to read them. He hated the thought that anyone else might be able to literally be inside of his head, hated the idea that someone could, without his knowledge hear or see into his inner thoughts.
When Tali let out a sigh of relief, Shepard did as well. Whatever it was, it couldn't be as bad as he might've thought, could it?
"It looks like… Well… A port for some other implant. But it isn't hooked into anything, so wouldn't have any effects as it is. So whatever they might've planned to put there to do, whatever it was they wanted to do… It isn't there." Tali said slowly, doing her best to not broach the subject of the one thing that they'd all been thinking might have been there. As she slowly pulled changed the view to the rest of the body, the mood in the room lightened a bit more. "But… Keelah, you weren't kidding about him having extensive implants, Caern."
The doctor nodded, "I've honestly never seen anything even remotely like it… It makes the members of our strike teams look like they haven't got too many implants." He said slowly, shaking his head as he looked over to Tali. Shepard raised an eyebrow as he wondered about the statement, before Tali responded.
"They don't… A half dozen or so standard implants for Migrant Fleet Marines, maybe a few more if they've proven to need them. I guess though that you might be right… Our strike teams tend to need a few more." She said slowly, shrugging as she looked at the hologram, changing the contents of the display to see a few different 'layers' of it. "I probably have more than most of the strike team though..." She said slowly as she zoomed in on something in particular that appeared to be directly beneath Shepard's kneecap. Without really noticing, Shepard found his own hand on his right knee as he listened to the conversation.
"How many implants to you have, Tali?" Shepard asked after a moment's silence as Tali seemed to be examining another piece of hardware.
She turned to him, seemed to have to think about it for a moment. Caern had also turned to him, his eyes slightly narrow, as if he might've broached a topic that he shouldn't have before Tali answered and he looked back to the hologram, shrugging off whatever he might'e been thinking. "Fifteen. Only four of them were really major though." She said simply, before returning to the hologram. "Nothing compared to you though." She said, gesturing to the hologram, the slight edge to her voice that meant she was smiling beneath the mask evident. Shepard laughed lightly in reply as he acknowledged that it was certainly true…
"Fair enough, I suppose that you're probably considering taking half the parts out and making the ship run a little bit better with them, huh Tali?" Shepard asked back, rewarded with a slight laugh from Tali as she shrugged and began to explain, more to Caern, what she thought one particular device might be used for. Christ… He was barely human at all, mostly made from cloned parts and cybernetics. Optimized for combat…
That might not necessarily be a bad thing, especially if his line of work was still going to be combat.
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