Oh my god. THINGS! YOU NEED TO STOP HAPPENING!
If you just flipped me of, Things, I'll make you pay! So Things that happened, house loan decided to terrify me (false alarm), laptop died a terrible death (Zombie laptop the second, come back! I didn't mean it!), lawn mower blew up (I had nothing to do with it), phone LITERALLY blew up (WTF, batteries... I don't even know how you melted!), a retaining wall flanking my driveway collapsed (oh jesus, Things, staph!), and… job doing MANDATORY OVERTIME... again (aljdfaljasdf... yeah, about like that).
SO! You will now pass me a rocket launcher. I'm taking it for a walk from now on. Things won't dare happen to a lunatic carrying a rocket launcher! My new lappy, thus named Kobold, is running windows 8... or as I'm now calling it "I have no clue what I'm doing". Seriously, Things. Not cool.
Due to entirely missing NaNoMo due to THINGS, some friends and I have rescheduled to this month! I'll finish this story within this month! That is my resolution!
Limbo: Chapter 14 – Tuning In
The fleet of Reapers was working full power on collecting resources and almost nothing else. The Oculi units still buzzed planets to do their scans for minerals and avoided patrolling organics and sent all the data back to the fleet. The destroyer and harvester units had landed on the barren planets of unoccupied worlds to harvest the element zero as fast as possible. The dreadnoughts kept their formation grouped together, acting as a mobile base for the smaller units to return to. Shepard had clipped the schedule roster so tightly that if a Reaper did not follow it by the second it would throw off the other units waiting on them.
However the schedule was slowly being disrupted by an argument.
"I'm not grinding up Reapers to rebuild the relays!" Shepard had put herself between Harbinger and Ceph, though the latter was not aware of the argument. "Just like we're NEVER going to be grinding up organics to make Reapers. This is not a repeat of the 'how to turn humans into relay' conversation. Not now, not ever!"
Ceph directed his attention at the argument now, his systems still coming up to speed from his forced reboot. Harbinger intercepted the argument and erected a firewall around himself and the Shepard-program to continue the conversation without the whole of the Convergence watching like it was the Reaper version of a soap opera.
"It is the expected life cycle of all Reapers." Harbinger was no longer a toneless monotone, but had dropped to a deep and frustrated rumble that pitched higher as he tried to make his point.
"Yeah? And so was 'get eaten by Thresher Maws' for ancient krogans, but they don't do that anymore!" 'Not deliberately anyway', Shepard left unvoiced.
Frustration welled from the XR, spreading down the Convergence and causing slight delays in all time-tables. "Your comparison is not the same." Harbinger rumbled. "All units converted into relays still function. Their processes still exist."
"As what? Toasters? Games of Tic-Tac-Toe? The relays never spoke to anyone, did they even have the processing power to do so after they were converted?" Shepard was angry. Irrationally angry. And when she got angry, things tended to blow up or just keel over dead.
Harbinger mirrored her anger though, an equal yet opposite force. "Shepard." Pressure, heavy and daunting pressure felt like gravity was five times stronger. Frustration. "You cannot protect everyone. You cannot shield everything. If you insist on rebuilding the relays as fast as possible to save organics, then there must be a sacrifice."
"I WAS the sacrifice!" From there, Shepard went berserk.
There had been yelling on her part, and Harbinger countering every argument with a wave of frustrated and furious logic. That only made Shepard more angry. But with every onslaught attack of emotion, Harbinger seemed to stumble and the Commander felt like she had just taken a blow from a krogan. It was a very painful lesson along the lines of 'stop hitting yourself'. She was literally attacking herself with this argument with her own emotions.
While Harbinger was able to stand up to a full blown emotional attack... the rest of the Convergence was NOT. Even with a firewall erected, enough boiling emotion fused through the barrier to cause distress and panic among the fleet. Oculi units turned into a hailstorm of cannonballs in their flight, peppering a Captial class Reaper with dents. The mining operations became confused and a new folder for 'inappropriate uses for mining lasers' had to be added to all directories. And Ceph crashed so badly he was forced to restore several sections of his AI to default. It was the Reaper equivalent of chewing your own arm off to escape a trap... only in this case you would then glue your arm right back onto your shoulder after you were free.
The argument had degraded out of words and into pressure, like two singularities attempting to overpower the other. Work had completely halted, with half of the Reapers attempting to calm the Shepard-Code and the other half dropping into fits of naked panic. Removing the firewall to give out orders to return to work, Harbinger conceded the argument and gave one last burning comment through the connection. "Inform the relic that you will be starting an antique collection then. The Convergence does not have the resources to update dated materials."
Shepard chased his retreating signal with a heavy burst of pressure. Her anger was causing the fleet to jitter, uncomfortable and wary of their leader's strange temper tantrum. Raising a firewall of her own, Shepard dropped to the lotus-position and closed her eyes in the darkness. If she did not calm down, she was only going to cause the fleet distress and throw the time-table off even more. The meditation doesn't take root though, and Shepard can almost hear the non-existant blood pounding in her ears.
"Shepard?" Ceph was trying to rouse her. The ship has a constant air of an ancient and decrepit civilization around him, as if he were one of those prothean ruins Liara was so keen to discover. His reboot seemed to have given him a temporary shield against her fury.
Giving a sigh of surrender at trying to meditate, Shepard opened a port in the firewall for Ceph to enter. "Is this about that screaming fight Harbinger and I just had?" There is a sensation of pressure at Shepard's back, as if Ceph was settling his old iron-bones down next to her.
"Yes. It was... noticeable."
A second sigh – this one of frustration – escaped Shepard. She slumped backward against the heavy pressure behind her, a little surprised to find it solid. Leaning against virtual programs as if they were solid things was something she would probably never get used to – even while in the geth consensus, interacting with data had blown her mind. "So you heard about your 'upgrade' Harbinger wanted to give you?"
"Yes." Ceph sounds surprisingly neutral on the subject.
"And? What's your opinion?" Sitting up and turning in the darkness, there is only the dull red glow of Ceph's icon in the system. It probably should have been ominous or sanity destroying to see the terrible red eye of a Reaper staring you down,... but Shepard found it didn't bother her as it once had.
The Reaper remained silent at her question, just a heavy pressure in the darkness. "No opinion exists. It is part of our cycle."
"Yeah? And I gave the finger to that cycle plans and told your old glowing child-boss to fuck off. I'm asking for your opinion." Shepard could feel the Convergence against the firewall. She was needed out there, but her temper had not died out yet. Opening the firewall would assault the entire fleet and slow down their progress even more.
Asking a machine to suddenly generate an opinion on something they had taken as fact for so long was apparently difficult. Ceph's answer was reluctant and slow. "This unit will perform an analogy to the matter."
"Don't hurt yourself on that." Shepard rocked backwards in amusement, knocking her virtual back into Ceph's programming.
Irritation. Pressure. Deflection. "This unit is old... and cranky, and entitled to share data that is seemingly pointless with you."
Halting her rocking, Shepard cocked her head in confusion. "Is this the equivalent of a human grandfather saying 'shut up you damn kids and let me tell you my war story'?'
Pressure. Yet... the wave wasn't as powerful as it normally had been, and riding in the wake behind it was a sensation of amusement. "No. This is the Reaper equivalent of telling you to shut up so this unit can tell you an analogy. They are difference, Shepard."
"Ah, yes. My mistake. Onward with story hour." The woman/program may have smiled... but she would have denied it if asked.
Ceph settled himself down, even his programming seemed to creak under his own bulk. "A creator wishes its creation to be what it cannot be. Stronger, more intelligent, or to do what they are not able."
Shepard was struck with a sense of deja vu. Someone had said this to her, but with rage still clouding her senses she could not remember who. Javik? Legion? Mordin? The fact that 2 of those three people were dead only furthered pushed the cloud of emotion into her mind and clouded her thoughts further. Loss. Mourning. Pressure.
The internal program of Ceph began to stutter and small runtime glitches popped up in reaction. There was an answering wave of pressure from the Reaper, only this time it seemed more calming that the same smothering energy it had always been. Within a few seconds, Shepard found she had a firm control on that line of thought and the emotions that went with it.
With all her emotions under a vague semblance of control and not assaulting the ancient machine, Ceph continued, "Reapers were created to watch and observe. To endure. And later, to destroy." Ceph's physical body was in poor shape as far as Reapers went. The amount of scarring that resulted in poor patch jobs and aged rusting was now most of the machine. However he HAD endured – with no care from anyone else other than himself – over millions of years. "Change... we do not like change."
"But you don't care if you are changed from a Reaper into a relay? You don't care you'll never move again?"
"But... I will endure." The pronoun 'I' was unusual from Ceph. Harbinger and some of the Capital ships might use that term, but Ceph had always been more like the geth's style saying 'we' or 'this unit'. "As you have endured... and changed."
Now she was struck by this more than anything else. In the few weeks she had spent lodged in the Reaper database, she had changed, despite her resistance. She had been a human mind trapped in a mess of machinery at first. Now that it had been brought up she noticed immediately what he had meant.. Shepard referred to herself as a synthetic (and moreso, she thought of herself as a piece of code now). She could construct firewalls, barriers, and mastered FTL communications with her fleet. And most telling...she considered the reapers her fleet and felt it with emotions ranging from affection to a dull sort of acceptance.
She had changed.
And Reapers fear change.
"Am I … terrifying the Reapers?" Shepard lifted her head, a curtain of red hair falling away from her brow.
"Yes." Ceph simply answered. "They accept you, but they fear you as well. You have caused this change, we cannot stop it. We only accept our plans."
The ancient granddaddy of Reapers didn't care if he was converted because it was not a Reaper's place to go against orders. EVER. Fear kept them in line, just as fear of the Catalyst kept them in line before. Each of Shepard's emotional outbursts terrified the synthetics, but they accepted it because they had no choice. However after each outburst and forced lesson on emotions, they seemed just a little less alien to her.
"So am I indoctrinating you guys, or have you successfully gotten me?" Bright green eyes were dull, like the woods after a hard rain.
Ceph's programming shifted, the data was actually rocking in a comforting manner. "Both. Humans exist to adapt. Reapers exist to endure. Both qualities … are useful."
Silence. The pressure and noise from the Convergence was hard to detect with Ceph's struggling programs making their normal noise.
"You never did answer my question properly. Do you want to be a relay? Will you still be … well, you?" Shepard finally looked up, unable to delay returning into the center of the database any longer.
More silence, though of a different sort. Without saying anything, Ceph's systems increased in their chatter and clicking by almost three fold, as if he were trying to process a very difficult equation.
"An opinion will be formed by the next time we speak." Ceph said, his program moving away from Shepard and she wobbled backwards into the area he had been in.
A sarcastic smirk twisted the Commander's lips. "Since we communicate at FTL speeds, doesn't this mean the next time we talk will have been now?"
Ceph's reply was completely unexpected. "No one likes a smartass, Shepard." The Reaper then removed himself from the firewall with an aura of amusement.
Just like that, Shepard's foul mood was gone. Come to think of it, meditation had never really worked for her anyway. The most calming thing she could do on the Normandy was to toss herself into the co-pilot's chair and listen as Joker complained loudly about something and EDI offered her opinion that he was just cranky and needed to sleep more.
"God... how bad is it when I find I'm happier when surrounded by cranky people." Shepard dropped her firewall, letting the data from the mass of Reapers wash over her.
Garrus was trying to wake up. Trying being the keyword. For every time he felt himself on the boundary of consciousness his muscles felt too leaden to move and he'd tumble back into sleep. The second time this happened, Garrus could hear Chakwas' voice – soothing and calm as she checked on Cortez and then released him from the hospital tent. On his next attempt Garrus heard the sound of some sort of insects chirping in the night but all else was silent and he was lulled back into sleep.
The normal discomfort of his hardsuit would normally be enough to wake him up after a few hours, but Chakwas had insisted he put on a pair of civies and get out of his armor while he was in the hospital tent. There had been a rather one sided argument about 'using a can opener to be able to treat her patients' that Garrus heard before he had dropped off to sleep.
What finally woke him up was his arm suddenly giving a painful throb. Wincing, he grit his teeth and managed to squint one eye open.
It was daytime now, and the tent was a soft white glow through the canvas walls. A tangle of wires was wrapped around his injured hand, having become even more tangled while he slept. One of the needles was slowly slipping from under his plates, no longer embedded in a vein.
Groggy, Garrus plucked the line out and dropped it. Through blurry eyes, gritty with sleep, he looked down at his arm and prepared himself for the worst. However 'the worst' was on vacation and picking up it's slack was 'same as always'. His arm had no change since he had gone to sleep. The creeping green glow of cybernetics had not spread any further, and perhaps even a little of the swelling might have gone down.
"That doesn't seem to bad." Garrus blinked the sleep away, rolling his arm over to look at it better.
"I dunno, your arm certainly isn't going to be winning any beauty contests." Joker's voice didn't even cause Garrus to startle. The pilot was a permanent fixture in the medbay until his bones healed, it was no different than expecting to hear EDI's voice when on the Normandy.
"How many arm beauty contests have you seen?" Swinging his legs over the edge off the bed, Garrus wobbled as a case of vertigo struck him.
Joker shrugged stiffly. "Vega's got a gun show going on there."
"Gun... show?" Blinking owlishly, Garrus wondered if he was still half asleep.
Joker was grinning. "Oh man, watching you try to figure that one out is going to be great."
The hospital room currently was only housing Garrus and Joker, the doctor and EDI were not present. "Arm contests aside, where is –,"
"Doctor Chakwas says don't move and she'll be right back, or she's going to give Tali permission to clobber you with a bedpan." Joker answered quickly. "She's using the comm to try to raise Victus back on Earth. Doc is making sure she's not going to be causing an intergalactic incident if she has to take your arm off."
Garrus froze. "S-she has to take my arm off?!"
"IF she has to." Joker clarified, looking a little guilty. "I mean, she saved your face once with cybernetics before and did everything possible to keep you pretty, but I think she's a little reluctant to stuff you full of more cybernetics when your current ones are going crazy."
Looking around the room quickly, just in case Tali was lurking somewhere with a bedpan, or if the quarian had assigned Harmony to that job, Garrus rose to his feet unsteadily, stretching out his stiff arm. "Actually, I was going to ask where EDI was."
"Inside the ship. Of course." Joker paused. "Though I think what you meant to ask was 'where is my creepy alien sphere', right?"
Garrus winced. Did they really think him so transparent, … or were they assuming indoctrination? "No, what I meant was is EDI okay after watching my creepy alien sphere."
"Ah. Yeah. She's fine." Joker frowned slightly. "She's not chatting it up like you were, but she says it sort of... sort of answers her without talking. Something like it answers with empathy and emotions more than words." When Garrus nodded at this, Joker snorted, "Ok, well looks like we have a new team member for the intergalactic charades group then if a metal ball can emote happiness better than someone with a face."
Edging towards the tent, Garrus reached towards the flap, "Hey, Doctor Chakwas said not to-," Joker reached out as if to pull Garrus back into the room.
"I'll be back in just a minute." The turian waved Joker away and pulled back the canvas to peer out, only to meet Chakwas glowering in at him from the other side. "Or... or I'll just be sitting down again."
Harmony poked into the room, glowing like a lamp in her luminous drone shell. Upon spotting Garrus standing, the geth zipped over to him and plowed right into his knee, causing him to stumble backwards and land rather unexpectedly on the bed. "Harmony, I know steering is hard... but it can't be THAT bad."
"Vakarian-Officer." Harmony chirped. "In violation of the Vakarian-Zorah bargain, I have been dispatched as an envoy to reinstate the treaty or you will run the risk of finding exports of sarcasm and glares from the sovereign nation of Creator-Zorah."
Joker snorted with amusement, suddenly finding a dataplate near him to be very interesting as Chakwas turned to glare at him as well.
"And seeing as how he cannot seem to remain seated, I'll thank you to keep my patient in the medical bay until I discharge him." Chakwas spoke to the geth as she continued her professional glare until Garrus was looking properly chastised, and then sighed heavily. "I just finished speaking to the primarch," she said, lifting her omni-tool.
"Didn't realize you had to get permission from the turian hierarchy to lop someones arm off."
"Ah, I see you've been speaking to my helpful nurse Moreau." Chakwas fixed a flat gaze at Joker, unamused. Joker continued to be fascinated with the dataplate. "Despite what he said, we are not going to amputate. The primarch retrieved one of his medical professionals so I could get his opinion."
Chakwas reached for Garrus' injured arm, waving her omni-tool over it carefully. "So what's the verdict?" Garrus asked.
"It's... complicated. The cybernetics are not doing any harm, they are simply spreading. In fact, they seem to be trying to repair any damage they come across. See here-," Chakwas ran her gloved index finger along the swollen tissue under cracked and crumbling plates, "-This was twice as inflamed last night. While the cybernetics are not aggressively spreading, they seem to be trying to passively work their way in as your body is overwhelmed with trying to manage healing on it's own." The glowing green spread was reaching tendrils towards his wrist, the plates around it fusing back together as if they had never started cracking at all.
"So it's... good." Garrus rolled his wrist over and flexed his hand. He was greeted by a jolt of pain that caused black spots to dance over his left eye. "What's going on up here then?" Reaching up with one claw, Garrus touched the side of his face cautiously. There was pain, but not as much as there had been the day before.
"Scans indicate the cybernetics have spread into soft tissues as well. Your eye, aural canal, and muscle tissue mostly. That would explain how you are able to understand Alliance Standard English without an active omni-tool. Essentially, you now have a built-in translator." Pulling the glove tighter over her hand, Chakwas began to carefully prod along the cybernetic spread, testing for any sort of separation between organic and synthetic material. The cybernetics were all fused – an inextricable part of flesh and plates.
Blinking for a moment, the black spots again swam in Garrus' vision, then darted away, then returned glowing green and flashing with numbers. The typical data that he was used to seeing on the battlefield was now making his head throb. Grunting in frustration, Garrus reached up to bat away his visor, only to remember he hadn't been wearing it for the past few days while he all but lived in his hard suit.
"And a built-in visor too." Garrus remained still, one hand held inches from his eye as data flicked across the left peripheral of his vision: body heat, pulse rate, distance, and zoom ratio all accounted for... without his visor.
Chakwas had only the briefest look of shock before she had her professional doctor's face back on. Immediately Chakwas was running basic eye exams, testing for any vision loss or blind spots. Only able to dumbly follow the blinding light she shined in his eyes and blink on command, Garrus felt a trace of the same annoyance Shepard must have when Chakwas fussed over her cybernetics Cerberus installed.
In fact he had never understood why Shepard would sigh in relief at the words 'minimally invasive' ... until now.
Garrus blinked, and the data was gone. Blinked again and it all returned. "I thought you said the cybernetics were only spreading to damaged areas?"
"They are." Chakwas insisted. "Your right side eardrum was replaced obviously because you use that undersized excuse for a cannon that you insist is a sniper rifle – I am amazed you could still hear from that side at all. Your injured arm and old scar tissue on your jaw are obvious targets of the spread. But your medical reports detail quite clearly that you were wearing the visor to compensate for a slowly deteriorating left eye. You enlisted with 20/8 vision, but your last report on your service records states a slowly deteriorating vision of 20/20 in your left eye. A fact you seem to have... forgotten... to pass on to Normandy's service records. The primarch was kind enough to fill in the gaps."
"Because I know my dear friend Garrus wouldn't have been keeping that out of his records on purpose." Chakwas was unnaturally sharp sometimes.
Joker was giving Garrus a warning look, one that seemed to suggest if he grabbed Chakwas' bottle of brandy and threw it across the room, he'd have a five second head start to run away.
"It... wasn't that bad yet." Garrus sat a little straighter in his own defense. "It was only in the one eye anyway." Glancing Joker's way, he could see the pilot was dying to say something, but common sense and self-preservation had rendered the pilot silent while Chakwas was at work.
"While diagnostics show the cybernetics to still be benign and helpful... the fact remains they are spreading further than they should have with no cause. If I had a fully functional medical bay, I'd be recommending we have them removed entirely."
"And now that you barely have two aspirin to rub together?" Garrus queried.
Chakwas frowned. "I'd say that spread of cybernetics is the best thing to happen. It's doing the job of a full surgical team and without any medication. But if it spreads further, it won't be possible to remove from your system."
At this, Garrus looked non-plused. "And?"
Now Chakwas looked surprised. "You don't care? It would be permanent and non-reversable."
"That's what Shepard said about that tattoo, but I certainly didn't hear her complain. Look, as long as it's not hurting me, just let it be. I think we have a little bit more to worry about than me glowing in the dark."
At this, the doctor had nothing to say. It was the truth – Garrus wasn't in dire need of medical attention to stop the cybernetic spread, and any attempts to slow or stop it might be worse than leaving it be. They just didn't have the resources to do anything about it.
The geth paused, the combat drone making several clicking noises for a beat. "Shepard-Commander was subject to the organic ritual of tattooing?"
Garrus reached down and placed a wide hand over Harmony's sensors to hush the geth. Talking about those tattoos was not the issue at hand (the Commander certainly hadn't gone around flashing people with them either). "After the scene Javik made, … I really half expected something a lot worse than this. I was assuming some sort of cybernetic take-over. But this is... helpful."
Harmony gave that annoying clicking noise, and shook free from Garrus, her small propulsion system bobbling her away from him. "Records indicate that Zha were not hostile species, not until the Prothean attempt to subvert them did they create Zha-til and become hostile."
"That may be, but I'm not going to be the one to point a finger at Javik and blame his people for angry computer-people attacking. I like my fingers where they are." Joker mumbled, looking down at his easily breakable hands.
Continuing, the geth said, "Using the current cycle's statistics, it is likely that the Reapers contacted the Zha-til shortly after their creation in an attempt to control or recruit them like they did the geth."
Chakwas let her patients continue to talk while she worked, extracting a new tube of medigel and some soft gauze bandages. Garrus leaned away from her touch with a flinch as she carefully traced the path of cybernetics on his face with the gel. "Ah, dammit." He hissed, before trying to speak with clenched jaws as the sting of medigel was replaced by blissful coolness. "Reapers weren't openly hostile to geth, right? You think they were the same to Zha-til?"
"No, it was not the same." EDI's voice surprised them all, and the AI walked into the tent with a familiar silvery orb in her hand. "The Reapers were starting their purge earlier than the 50,000 year cycle, in response to the Zha-til being wiped out."
"How do you-," Garrus began, but then noticed the small sphere give a shiver and pulse. "It's telling you what happened?"
"Yes. Though reluctantly. The Reapers sent an envoy to the Zha-til out of... it would appear to be out of interest or curiosity. They wanted to see this race of both organic and synthetics before the purge began. However when Protheans wiped them out... the purge started early, almost out of retaliation." EDI looked at Garrus, her silvery eyes examining the mess of cybernetics clearly visible on his face. "I think they wished to protect them. Though I could not confirm this."
This sounded so unlike the Reapers that everyone was immediately in denial. Joker – king-of-denial – had a proclamation on that matter as well. "Reapers? Protect? I dunno if you were paying attention, EDI, but I'm pretty sure when Sovereign and Harbinger both launched their attacks on organics, the rest of the Reapers must have been sitting back and laughing. At them, mostly as they got their asses kicked. And maybe us too, but mostly at their own kind! I don't think they are built to protect."
"They aren't." Harmony agreed. "But it does not mean they cannot."
Garrus had yet to pull his attention off the sphere in EDI's hands. He wanted it back. But snatching the sphere from her was pretty much going to look terrible.
To his surprise, EDI offered it to him. "I believe it has told me as much as it will until it returns to your possession. It appears to be uncomfortable in my presence."
Holding his uninjured hand forward, the sphere seemed magnetically drawn to his palm as EDI rolled it to his hand. The contact sent a wave of relief through him, and then the device/transmitter/Shepard's-spoils-of-war gave a wave of pressure-relief-comfortbefore settling down. The high frequency humming sound it gave off when 'active' faded softly to a slight buzzing and then died away entirely until it was doing it's very best paperweight impression.
Chakwas gave a huff of disapproval, clicking her tongue as she watched her medical scanner blip and the data charts jump wildly. "You've been at high stress since you woke up. I was about to recommend returning to bed... but the moment you handled that device your bioscans returned to a normal level... blood pressure, adrenaline levels, you even stopped sitting quite so stiffly. Does it really make that much of a difference?" She cast her disapproval upon the sphere.
The silvery object gave a slightly shiver. Amusement. But did nothing else.
"Yes. It does." Garrus pocketed the sphere quickly, before anyone could ask for it. Irrational as it was, he felt it shouldn't leave his possession now. Chakwas' observations were spot-on. Garrus felt more awake than he had in a long time now that he had the sphere back, his swimming vision had sharpened into focus again, and the strange cybernetic spread stopped aching so much as well.
A bit awkward under all the attention, Garrus cleared his throat. "I should get started on my roster. I'm sure I can fix something in the ship."
"Hold it." The voice of the doctor was restraining and contained the warning of all his medication being suppository from now on if he didn't listen to her. "I'll permit you up and about, but you've been entirely removed from hardsuit duty roster until your cybernetics stabilize. I was serious when I said I was surprised you hadn't been fused into your armor." Chakwas moved to block Garrus, though if he really wanted to leave the flimsy canvas of the tent wasn't a barrier at all.
"Creator-Zorah is completing the repairs to the ventilation system. Within 24 hours Normandy will have reached a temperature that no longer requires hardsuits." Harmony chattered. Then the geth paused as it seemed to receive a message, "Proxy-Commander-Alenko has submit a new roster duty request for all teams not on active ship-side duty."
"And how many teams is that exactly?" Garrus asked, interrupting the Geth.
"... just you."
That meant even James Vega – who was prone to break just about anything he came into contact with – was now trying to repair the Normandy on a regular duty shift. Reaching up to carefully press a knuckle above the ridge of his nose, Garrus felt the beginning of a headache approaching. "Alright. What's he got that needs done?"
"Locate a number of materials that were dislodged from Normandy during the crash. Plating, weapons, landing jacks, all were stripped off along with the pair of engines. Please locate and report their location so the retrieval team can pick them up."
It was a search and find mission, but in a situation like this it was busy work. Granted, it had to be done... but it was normally something you save once the critical systems of Normandy had been repaired.
However it brought up an interesting point. "So … I'm back on patrol duty, by myself, and with no weapon? Didn't I get yelled at for patrolling earlier?" Giving Chakwas a sideways glance, he noted the doctor gave a pained look as if she disapproved of any sort of duty until he was fully healed, especially one that involved waltzing into the jungle of this uncharted planet. It appeared that Kaidan had finally pulled rank on the doctor, insisting Garrus be put back on duty. It was nice to be doing something again, and knowing that Kaidan was doing his best to keep him busy rather than brooding.
"You aren't taking that cannon with, but I can approve duty for small arms. I don't suspect you'll need it though. Javik was rather thorough looking for any threats around the ship, and came up with nothing worse than some form small insect life." The doctor gave Garrus a reproachful look, as if challenging him to dare to use his sniper rifle against her orders.
"Right, just a pistol. I think I can handle this, pistol or not though." Stepping from the tent quickly, Garrus headed for the edge of the camp before Chakwas could decide she was going hen-peck him about the poor state of his plates or how his hand had been shaking slightly after he woke up. As serious as she took the crew's health, it was just as awkward to have her fussing over him right now as it had been to have Mordin suggest advice for 'handling' Shepard.
So. Damn. Awkward. There should have been an award for that conversation.
With no armor and a small arms pistol only, Garrus felt more vulnerable than he had facing down Harbinger's collection of minion protheans and their baby-Reaper. Even if the planet was safe, he felt... watched? Observed somehow, and not just by his teammates either.
There was a high pitched whirr from Garrus' pocket as the sphere 'spoke up'. To him it seemed like it was confirming his suspicions... or perhaps it was calling his paranoia foolish.
Stopping at the workbench that Vega or Cortez had been trying to put the Normandy's arsenal back together, Garrus selected one of the spare handguns and looked it over to make sure it was in working order. Handguns were not the turian's preferred weapon, but that didn't mean he wasn't just as deadly with one. Garrus reached back to clip the pistol onto his armor... before he remembered he was wearing his civilian clothing and it didn't have a holster built-in. All he had was the utility pocket which the Zha-til sphere was sitting comfortably in.
This left a choice. He could carry the pistol like he was expecting trouble, or he could pocket the pistol and carry the sphere...
It really hadn't even been a choice. Garrus pulled the sphere out of his pocket and tucked the pistol away.
Several engineers were on the move outside of Normandy, moving about in a fratic, half-panicked state that was typical for over-worked engineers. Gabby noticed Garrus leaving and waved, even as she tried to boost Ken up onto the scaffolding that was being erected around the ship. Giving a salute of his own as he entered the woods, Garrus paused only to flip the omnitool on and activate the mapping feature. Previous patrols had found the locations of several known pieces of debris and already marked on the map. Judging by the marks, most of Normandy's parts that were knocked off were in a long line that headed towards a deep ravine and possibly through a shallow lake that was in the middle of the debris field.
"Great. Alenko probably should been told as some point that turians really don't swim." Garrus grumbled, pushing through the heavy brush with his computer scanning for any pieces nearby as he passed.
The sphere in his hand seemed to come to life at this phrase and raised a small mass effect shield, then lowered it, and then made that strange buzzing noise before falling still. Garrus' exposed synthetic elements tingled wildly in response.
"What was that?" Garrus asked, tipping his head in confusion to look down at the sphere.
The sphere made no response. Or at least, it was still long enough for Garrus to assume it was doing it's best paperweight impression before it finally responded, 'not so much swimming as flailing and drowning... and more flailing, right?'
Breath caught in his throat, and his heart lost it's beat for a moment. It was the same phrase he had told Shepard when they were on the Citadel, overlooking the reservoir lake. And he was positive he heard her voice this time. No mere imagined hallucination or half-asleep dream.
"Shep? Jane?" Garrus rolled the sphere in his good hand, examining it closely.
Static crackled, the cybernetics on his right side flared almost painfully and the bright display flashed over his enhanced eye before fading out again. 'Garrus?' Shepard's voice was now unmistakable, clearer than it had been before. She sounded surprised, as if caught daydreaming.
His cybernetics, somehow, had to be conducting this signal. Before everything was so faint, and now that the synthetic spread was growing the reception seemed to improve. Or maybe the sphere was acting as a receiver somehow, connected to... to what though?
Before the turian could think of anything to say, Shepard's voice sounded in his ear, 'You have hacked your way inside! I knew you cou-.' Pressure. Excitement. Static. The static wasn't part of the sensation coming through the sphere, but more of a loss of connection. A few seconds later the static lifted.
"Shepard, you are breaking up again, and I have no clue how to use this thing." The signal seemed clearer away from the Normandy. Garrus continued to push through the underbrush, now not even bothering to look at his omni-tool tracker or check for debris from the ship.
'The Convergence is under lockdown though, so how are you-,' static crackled again drowning her out.
"Shepard!" Glancing down at the sphere, Garrus wasn't sure what to do to improve the signal other than to shake the object like a snowglobe or bash it against something a few times (ala Vega's method of fixing things). The Zha-til device continued giving a high pitched oscillating sound, unmoved to reconnect to Shepard or start working as it had been.
Perhaps it was the Normandy was block the signals this Zha-til device was sending out to Shepard, or maybe whatever group the Convergence was who had her realized she was speaking back and silenced her communicator again. Either way, Garrus felt compelled to go further into the woods. Either he'd out-range whatever was blocking the signal, or Shepard would break-free again and contact him.
The woods here were so thick that the ship and it's massive jutting tailfin were no longer visible and even the sun seemed to be hiding in the gloom of the heavy foliage. If not for his omni-tool, Garrus would be hopelessly lost less than one mile from the ship. Every few hundred yards Garrus paused to consult the sphere, hoping for some sort of strange aura field or a new tone of noise from the device. There was still only static in his ear, buzzing like a swarm of insects.
"New life-form detected. Activating Fruit Basket deterrent program to ensure no naked panic in the streets. Error: no streets detected. Error: Lifeform is not organic based nor synthetic based. Connection to Convergence interrupted. No data found." A metallic voice came from ahead, where the drop off to a ravine plunged suddenly. The leaves and small underbrush was crushed leading to the valley, as if something huge plowed through the forest.
With static still filling his right ear where Shepard had been speaking earlier and an unknown person hailing him from the thick of the woods, Garrus quickly exchange the sphere for the pistol and he crept forward. Once he lost contact with the sphere, the static stopped, and only silence could be heard. Instinct told him to secure the area first, but more than anything he wanted to shove instinct off and take the sphere out again to try to reconnect with the commander.
"Hello?" He called warily. He wasn't sure who was going to answer back, or if the answer would be gunfire or a savage attack.
"Greetings accepted." The voice called back. It sounded like a geth down there... only far larger.
Peering into the ravine, pistol clutched tightly in his left hand, Garrus spotted something large and metallic. It was without shape, essentially a large metal sphere. It also made no move at all from the bottom of the ravine, neither hostile nor friendly.
"Are you stuck?"
"Affirmative. Mass effect boosters offline. Lockdown on communications restricted function." It was a bit odd hearing a large chunk of metal speak without gestures. Even the geth would make small organic-like gestures as they spoke to try to put organics at ease. This thing seemed to be doing is best impression of a rock.
Hesitating on the brink of the valley, Garrus tightened his grip on the pistol. This strange chattering thing seemed odd for Javik and James to have missed while on patrol, but it was difficult to detect down there. If it had remained silent, perhaps they walked passed it each time. But why talk now? With one last pause, Garrus finally lowered the pistol and leaned down slide awkwardly into the ravine. "What are you? Geth? Zha-til?"
The sphere managed to roll sideways slightly, revealing something that had been hidden under the bulk of it as it was trapped. A gleaming red optic eye stared up at him from the mud. "Reaper."