Now beta'ed, thanks to great effort of the lovely DeliriumGothique!
BioWare owns everything except doctor Johannsen. (And I apologise for nothing).
Check the first comic entry on my dA page (accessible via my profile).
…certain advantages of being a fragile, blonde-haired girl…
The tables in the med bay are sterile-white, clean and untouched. They have never been used; SR-2 Normandy has just been completed, anyway. I cannot resist as I trace my fingers along their cold, smooth surface. The air is filled with the smell of sterilizer and novelty. I like that smell. Reminds me of the newly built laboratories back in Grissom Academy - before they were used and spoiled by my fellow peers. I smile unconsciously to that memory, then freeze when the door to the med bay is opened with that subtle, sizzling sound.
I wipe the smile off my face, putting on an expression of eagerness. Because the person entering the bay is my superior, Chief Medical Officer of the Normandy - Doctor Karin Chakwas. She eyes me from the top of my hair to the ends of my working shoes. I cannot shake off the uncomfortable feeling that she doesn't like me being here. As far as I could find out, she used to run the med bay on her own. Ever since the first Normandy had been built and until it had been destroyed.
The reports I've read, mentioned the size of the bay used to be half the size of what it is now and this was probably the reason why the Illusive Man decided it should be now handled by two people. Originally though, it wasn't supposed to be me. Maybe Doctor Chakwas was expecting to put someone she knew in this position, but she was handed me instead. I can perfectly sympathize with her, if that is the case. Still, I am determined to make her like me or, if that is not possible, at least appreciate my presence in the med bay. I turn to face her and greet her with a nod.
'Doctor Chakwas,' I say and she nods her head towards me in response.
'I see you're making yourself comfortable in the new surroundings,' she remarks, narrowing her eyes just a little bit.
'Yes Doctor, I admire the design of this place. It is elegant and yet the space is used in an economical manner. The way the beds and implements are arranged will make it easier to gain access to them while treating patients with minimum time loss.'
She nods again.
'It is a beautiful place indeed,' she says thoughtfully and takes a look around the area, as if seeing it for the first time. I know it is not true, though. When I arrived to the Normandy this morning, dragging my bag and hydroponics containers along the landing zone, she had already been here. Overseeing some Cerberus operatives; who were carrying crates with supplies to the med bay. Seeing her busy, I decided to skip the "making-myself-at-home" part and just loaded my bag on the bunk bed I was assigned, changed my clothes to the official crewman outfit and reported to the bay. That seemed to have earned me a few Brownie points.
It takes doctor Chakwas a few minutes, before she shakes off the melancholy and glances at me with a distant smile.
'The Commander is holding a briefing in the Communications Room in a few minutes. Actually, I have come to pick you up, Danielle.' she declares and I cannot help but smile at her. She knows Commander Jake Shepard, of course, but I've only read the dossiers and news reports on him. I cannot wait to meet him in person. 'We shouldn't be late for that. Shall we?'
I follow her up the elevator, where we are joined by Miranda Lawson, the Chief Officer of the Normandy and the Illusive Man's right hand in this operation. Her eyes narrow a little bit when she glances at me, but I pretend I never saw it. I know she has been the person most against me joining this operation and I cannot say I do not understand her reasons. There are certain… limits and maybe even risks that my presence here might pose. I cannot even begin to imagine what the consequences could have been if I had another mental breakdown, suddenly breaking a surgery or something, so I quickly push that thought away. I have promised to keep myself under strict control and supervision of Normandy's psychiatric and I intend to keep that promise. No matter what.
The Com Room is already filled with people chatting with hushed voices. Judging by their numbers, I am looking at all of the Normandy's skeleton crew that could leave their posts without risking some system malfunction. Suddenly, I am kind of glad this ship seems to be understaffed. A few more men and it would be hard to breathe.
I follow Miranda and Doctor Chakwas, who take their seats at the communications table. Being just a Junior Medical Officer I don't get one, of course. But since the room is mostly full of young human men, I get the best viewing spot anyway. There are certain advantages of being a fragile, blonde-haired girl in the room full of polite and tall young soldiers. They let me through almost automatically and smile back when I murmur 'Thank yous' with every step. I take my place behind doctor Chakwas' chair and for a moment feel the attention concentrating around my waist-long braided hair. I'm used to that. In society where the blonde hair gene has been almost extinguished by the dominant dark one, I'm a rarity. I notice a few women glaring at me with hints of envy and I smile to them apologetically. It works – it usually does. Mother Nature has gifted me with not only the rarest hair colour, but also with the biggest, bluest and most innocent doe eyes in the Galaxy. It's amazing what a well-aimed look can achieve among people that see me for the first time. There is no denying the fact we, humans, are a race that does a lot of unconscious judging by appearance only.
I cannot express enough how frustrating that is for me. Ever since I got enlisted in Grissom and I left the colony on Demeter, how I have been judged by my looks rather than by my skills. I cannot remember when the last time was, where I didn't have to start a discussion just to be allowed to do something by myself... Usually a few quarrels like that were enough to earn me some surprised respect, but sometimes it took time, before new people adapted to the fact that the doe-eyed girl can do something more than just stand over there and look pretty.
I skip those musings immediately when Jake Shepard enters the room. He is everything I have imagined he would be and much more. I cannot take my eyes off him – I scan his strong jaw, short black hair, his well-built silhouette and odd, unnatural scars on his face. As I recall the dossier, where some details of the Lazarus project were mentioned, I realise what I'm looking at. Those are the signs of unfinished and hastily interrupted skin regeneration process that had been artificially induced by Cerberus when the Commander's body was recovered, almost two years ago. The person I am staring at is supposedly - or rather was supposed to be - dead and against all odds, he's standing only a few feet from me - tall, handsome and charismatic.
I suddenly realise I might be nursing some sort of a crush on the Commander and I lower my head to hide a spreading blush. I intently stare at the table when Jake Shepard starts to speak. Even his voice is as amazing as his whole self: low and pleasant to the ear. It's a little difficult to accept the fact I find him extremely attractive. It never ends well in professional relationships.
I try to listen to what he is saying instead – he welcomes us upon the Normandy, he expresses his belief that we will work together to solve the mystery of the disappearing colonists, that we will face the enemy united and defeat them. He mentions that he has never expected to work for the Cerberus, but then he quickly adds he cannot wait to see what all people gathered here have to offer on this mission. I get a little nervous when he gets to that part. I am still not sure if I am the right person to be on this ship.
The short speech ends with the appointing of Miranda Lawson as Shepard's second-in-command, reminding everyone that she will be handling the Normandy and all the issues between crewmen in his absence. Then the Commander thanks us all for coming and after a brief pause people are starting to move out of the room. I want to follow but Miranda gestures me over.
'The Commander wants to speak with you, Johannsen.'
Okay, so this is it. The moment that will decide whether I get fired before we depart or shortly after.
I turn to face Shepard and try my most innocent smile with him. It's hard to say if it's working. The Commander returns it, but his eyes are scanning me with both interest and slight doubt. We wait until the last person – who happens to be Miss Lawson – exits the room and he starts speaking.
'Miss Danielle Johannsen, right? After what Miranda has said, I expected you to be a bit older.'
There we go.
'I am currently twenty one years, nine months and twenty-three days old, counting with the standard Earth time, Commander,' I say. 'I know I look a bit younger than that, but…'
'No, not what I meant,' he gives me a slightly wider grin than before. 'Miranda said you are pretty accomplished for someone so young.'
I wonder where I should go with that. It's possible that my dossier, or whatever it is that Shepard gets on all of his crewmen, consists of all that I've been doing since I was twelve, which was the age I got enlisted at Grissom's as one of their first students. It's true that I have always been somewhat capable, learning fast and graduating even faster and it was also true that the moment I left Grissom's protective walls, I've been hired by the New Dawn Pharmaceuticals to work on further development of a very specific type of biotic implant. I wouldn't call myself "accomplished". Granted, I had some knowledge in certain areas; Medicine, Microbiology, Xenobiology and few other 'Ologies', but it was just me having nice brain function that was accordingly a "little" enhanced by my implant.
'I am doing my best, Commander.'
'Oh, I don't doubt it! Miranda mentioned you have very specific biotic skills, right?'
'Indeed, Commander. My implant allows me to create very small and detailed mass effect fields, that I am then able to keep up for an hour or so, depending on their size and level of complication. I use this in my medical practice.' I can hardly deny the fact I really like talking about it.
'Tell me more, how did you get that implant?' His face shows genuine curiosity and I begin to wonder whether he have ever read any dossier or whatnot on me.
'The New Dawn Pharmaceuticals Company had approached Grissom about the time I have arrived there and they had been searching for biotics, who had shown specific interest in medicine,' I began. 'You can imagine how difficult it is to find a teenager with an interest like this, Commander. They considered it sheer luck that I decided to volunteer for the project.'
'Were there any risks involved? Have they informed you about them?'
I hesitate. I really, really doubt that he knows my files now, but how can that be possible? He should have… he must have read them! If so, is this some sort of test? I panic and I completely break out.
'Commander, I know they say I'm crazy, but that's not the case! I admit, the implant is occasionally interfering with my hormone activity and that does sometimes end up with severe depressions, but I keep it under control! I take my meds, I visit my psychotherapist and the Illusive Man said I am allowed to participate in the mission…' I slow down, seeing the confusion on his face.
'I… Commander, isn't that in my files or something?' I ask and he shrugs me off a little too casually.
'Oh, I never read them; it's so much better to find out about people by actually talking to them. Besides, I find it rude to be digging things on them behind their backs.' He smiles, but then his expression gets solemn again. 'So what was that about your depressions again?'
I sigh. I cannot believe he didn't know before. It is just… I don't… I feel so silly! Out of so many possible ways of handing this, thing, to my supervisor, I have probably chosen the worst.
'You are a biotic yourself, Commander, you realise there are certain… downsides of using the implants,' I say a bit resigned. Whatever I say now probably won't make it worse than it already is. 'The one I'm using is basically a prototype. When they placed it in my brain, no one really knew if it was going to work as intended. Turns out it allows me to control my biotic abilities in a ways no other biotic can, but it also gives me depressive bouts. It has to do with hormone secretion. Also, the placement of the implant makes it interfering with my brain activity. I have almost a photographic memory. And before you ask, yes, I have been informed about the risks from the beginning. So have my parents. The expectations were far worse than the reality is, to be honest.'
'New Dawn Pharmaceuticals, right?' He ensures, tilting his head to the side thoughtfully. I nod. 'When did you learn that they're Cerberus funded?'
I hesitate. In fact it hasn't been that long ago. The moment my candidacy was ensured for the Normandy mission, I have been told that there are people far more influential beyond the board of directors of the corporation. All of a sudden, I have been called to a meeting where instead of talking to a real person; I was introduced to a holographic image of the most secluded and probably most influential human in the Galaxy – the leader of the Cerberus group - the Illusive Man. It was probably the weirdest and most stressful interview in my whole life… But in the end I was not much surprised. Companies as big as New Dawn must have been involved in politics, far more complicated than I've ever cared to pay interest in. Realisation of that fact was still a little creepy, as if during all those years my life was supervised by the company, I was steered and controlled. I tell Shepard this and his brow furrows.
'What do you think about Cerberus, Danielle? Honestly.'
'I- I'm not really sure, Commander,' I confess. 'Recently I've heard rumours about… things, they've supposedly done. All those forbidden operations and experiments, it sounds horrible. But then again, I've never received anything but generosity from the company. Perhaps I'm too much of investment to them, to be treated badly.'
'That might be it,' he smiles at me, but then gets all solemn again. 'Cerberus stands for humanity first and doesn't really like cooperating with alien races. How about you? I admit it would be problematic having a doctor who doesn't want to treat aliens out of principle.'
'Oh, you have nothing to worry about, Commander! If you had checked my files, you'd know I was the top of my class in Xenobiology. I might not have had much practice, that's true, but my theoretical knowledge should be enough to face the challenge.'
'And those depressions you mentioned… how bad are they?'
Maybe it's just a wishful thinking, but I seem to sense some sympathy in his voice.
'It depends. Usually I just feel bad about the world, I take a couple pills and it passes. Sometimes I stay in my room for a day or two. It has a lot to do with the events going on around me, really.'
'How does a suicidal mission makes you feel then?'
I hesitate and then I realise he's winking at me. I cannot believe he's actually trying to joke about it, but it does make me feel a little better. Besides, Jake Shepard winking is a sight to treasure.
'Thrilled, Commander. Positively thrilled.'
He pats me on the shoulder with a good-natured grin on his face.
'I'm sure you're going to do just fine, Danielle. I lied about that dossier a little. I did read your awesome credentials. One of your previous supervisors, Doctor Cooper, claims that you concentrate best under stress and, well, that's one thing we're definitely going to have in abundance on this ship.'
Doctor Cooper, that dear old man. He was a head surgeon in the Alliance Fleet Field Hospital four years ago, when I was undergoing my medical practices there. We got to understand one another really fast and I really enjoyed working with him. He was probably the first person to call me a "Biomedic" too. After that the name just started to appear in my files as my "official working title".
'I'll do my best, sir!' I assure Shepard.
'Just "Shepard" or "Commander", if you really have to. You're not a military personnel after all.'
'Yes, Shepard… Commander, I mean.' I know I'm blushing, oh, goodness, I am blushing.
'Remember you can always come and talk to me if anything goes wrong, understood? Great. Carry on, then!'
Before I run out of the Com room, flustered and blushing like some English rose, I realise, with a slight pleasure, that he was calling me by my first name.
Oh well, he probably does that with every girl on the ship…