When You're Strange
A/N: Been a while, trying to get back into the swing of things. Skyrim is sucking my soul out piece by piece. XD
Some craziness, some fluff, and some excitement! Enjoy :D
Beta'd by: The crazy and wonderful Barbex
Shepard burst into engineering with Garrus and Kirrahe hot on her heels, eyes alert and pistol in hand. As she took in the scene of numerous species crowded around what must've been the Prime unit, she inhaled sharply, only to blurt out, "Report!" as she edged closer to the group.
Most of the group either spun or turned their heads as they heard her outburst, and several people started talking at once. The most she could make out of the babble of voices was: "IT MOVED!"
Her eyes snapped to the partially dismantled geth on the floor, lids narrowing in an attempt to concentrate on it, and aiming her pistol at its head. After a few moments, she lifted her gaze, satisfied that it wasn't moving - for the moment - and looked at Tali with a quirked eyebrow. "Tali, what's going on?"
Tali looked down at the scattered synthetic materials surrounding the geth, then back up at Shepard. "It's... still alive, Shepard. Barely registering base functions. Its comm unit is in pieces, so it can't contact anyone outside of the ship. It's moved just slightly once or twice, probably stray electrical impulses. It's aware of us, and that it's heavily damaged, but not much else. It's not damaged enough to warrant it to self destruct, but very nearly. I wasn't sure what you would want done with it, or if it would just get up and start trying to kill us all, that's why I called you."
Shepard's focus turned back to the Prime unit, lying completely decimated on the floor, and her eyes widened in disbelief. "How can this thing possibly be alive? It's got enough holes in it to take down a krogan!"
She heard a rumbling huff to her left, and she cast an apologetic look towards Wrex, who was giving her a rather disgruntled stare. "It's true, and you know it." He huffed again, rolling his eyes, before giving the tiniest of nods in assent.
Shepard shifted her view to Tali once more, resting her left hand on her hip, and pointing at the pile of synthetics on the floor with her pistol. "Alright, explain to me how this thing is still living when it's in pieces, with holes in it the size of my fist?"
Tali shook her head and brought up her omni-tool. "This is the latest readout I have from it."
Shepard flicked her wrist to activate her own omni-tool, and set it to receive a data packet. Her concentration wavered between the Prime and the data as she read it over, then stared wide-eyed at Tali once more. "How is that even possible? You're saying it can hear us too?"
Tali nodded twice. "Yes, it's been trying to repair its optical sensor for the past hour." Her eyes lowered over the streams of data scrolling up her omni-tool's screen, lifting her other hand to toggle a few commands.
Shepard turned to face Garrus, a worried expression darkening her features. She gnawed at her lips for a moment, then parted them to speak. Just then, a filtered gasp was heard from Tali's direction, and she swiveled her head towards Tali just as a familiar "Keelah!" was heard.
"What is it, Tali?" Shepard queried.
Tali was silent for a few moments, her fingers flying rapidly over various commands on her 'tool; until she finally lifted her head to stare with bright, wide eyes at Shepard. "Shepard... The geth is... trying to communicate with us!"
A surprised murmur spread over the small crowd gathered like wildfire, and Shepard took a step towards the origin of the flame, skepticism plain for any to see on her face. She nodded towards Tali's 'tool, and spoke urgently, "Show me."
Tali angled her omni-tool screen so Shepard could see the readout, pointing to specific data points. "See the numbers here, and here? These are baseline coding queries. The only time you would see these kinds of readings is if you have a completely new geth unit. I haven't seen anything like this since I saw old data of the readouts of new geth units from before the Morning War."
Shepard stared at Tali in shock. "So what you're saying is, this geth is waiting to... receive programing?"
Tali continued to watch the data streaming over her screen, but nodded. "Correct. It's asking for its directive." She finally lifted her eyes from the readout and locked eyes with Shepard. "Shepard, if we could program this geth to work for us... even with us..." she trailed off, imagining the possibilities.
"It could be a significant ally in this fight, if it were possible." Her eyes narrowed as thoughts churned through her mind. "Tali, could you program this geth to help us? Would it even work? Or would it turn on us the first chance it got?"
Tali wrung her hands, shifting her concentration to the wall just to the left and behind Shepard, seeming to search for the answer in the face of the metal sheeting. Suddenly, her eyes brightened as her entire body perked up, and her filtered voice pierced the heavy silence of the room as if a shot had rung out. "Yes! I can. I need to contact my father, he has more experience with geth coding, but I think it could work. We could at least give it rudimentary functionality to assess its status properly. For now, I will remove its ability to move its arms and legs so it won't pose a threat to anyone. Then I can contact my father and get to work on the hard parts."
Her own excitement was infectious, as nearly the entire room seemed to buzz with energy and anticipation at delving into this strange new project. Wrex and Ashley both seemed rather unsure of the whole situation, while Shepard and Garrus kept a wary eye on Tali and her new pet project, as she began to remove servos, wiring, and chips from the Prime's legs and arms.
After a few minutes, she stood and surveyed her handiwork. "There, it won't be able to move anything but its head and spine now." She glanced up at Shepard and Garrus, who were still pointing guns vaguely in the Prime's direction. "You don't need those anymore, it can't move." Her eyes seemed to smile behind the dark tint of her mask, and they slowly holstered their weapons, still watching the Prime carefully for any sign of a threat.
Tali sighed. "It's perfectly safe for now. The worst it can do is self destruct, and the only thing that would hurt would be itself. I'll contact my father as soon as we get near a comm buoy, which should be in about five minutes." She nodded and knelt back down next to the Prime, twisting wires together and fidgeting with seemingly random parts.
Shepard looked up at Garrus, and grimaced slightly. "She might think that thing is safe, but I'm putting a rotating security detail on it to guard it at all times. If that thing's toe twitches, they'll have orders to shoot it. In the head this time."
Garrus flicked a mandible out in a smirk, but nodded his agreement. "Yeah, I don't trust that thing as far as I can throw it."
Shepard blinked and raised an eyebrow at him. "That was an awfully human thing for you to say." She crossed her arms and rocked back on her hip as she regarded him with a tiny smirk of amusement.
He twitched his mandibles slightly as his neck flushed just a bit. "Figured I'd try something new. Did I get it right, at least?" He cocked his head to the side and trilled nervous amusement.
She couldn't help the grin that spread across her lips then. "Yes, you got it perfectly, actually. Correct type of circumstance and everything. I'm just surprised you made the effort." She chuckled lightly and waved her hand forward. "Come on, I'll get the security detail down here, and we can go grab food, showers and some much deserved sleep."
Shepard stuck her nose in the small dextro fridge and sniffed once. "Green, purple, or yellow?" She called back over her shoulder.
She heard a hum of distaste for all three options before Garrus spoke. "Green I guess. Might I convince you to pick up a bit more variety when we get to the Citadel, Vima?" She heard a mildly guilty chirp behind the question, and smiled to herself as she grabbed the green container of rations and walked to the counter.
She flexed her throat in preparation as she spoke. "I might be convinced to do that. What's my reward if I do?" She trilled nothing but the purest of innocence with the question, though her lips were curled up in an impish grin.
Garrus snorted. "A happier sniper and engineer, to start with..." He quirked his head to the side in curiosity, listening carefully to her subvocal cues, "and I imagine you would like some better tasting options for our meal times together, since you seem to hate making two different dishes." He ended the comment with a damningly curious chirp.
Shepard's hands stilled momentarily on one unopened package of dextro rations, sighing and closing her eyes as she trilled acknowledgment that she'd been caught. "I... I never really cared much for the flavor of levo rations. Dextro have much more spice to them. Even if they aren't as useful to me nutritionally as levo, I still prefer dextro rations for the flavor. Plus, mom always cooked dextro since she and I both could eat it and..." She trailed off, keening sadly.
Garrus keened for her in sympathy, but she quickly shook her head.
"No, don't. I got over that a long time ago. No point dwelling in the past." She flexed her throat once more, her playful mood gone, and busied her hands with preparing their meal. Her shoulders sagged when she heard the scrape of metal against metal, as Garrus pushed his chair back to stand. She heard him pad slowly to her, and felt the weight of his hand on her shoulder.
"Vima." He chided gently, and she leaned her head to the side to stroke his armored hand with her cheek.
She slowly shook her head as she righted her head. "Don't worry about it, Garrus. Times like these, we can't afford to dwell. I still feel it, I just... try not to think about it." She turned her head to face him with a sad smile and a nod, then faced forward to finish up the food preparation.
He persisted for a moment, keening sadly and nuzzling the back of her head in a comforting gesture, then licked her cheek and quietly walked back to the table. She smiled down at her hands as she worked to turn the simple rations into something slightly more palatable. As she finished, she grabbed the first plate and brought it over to Garrus with a small flourish.
"Dinner is served, my good sir." She bowed dramatically, grinning at him as he shook his head, mandibles splayed in his own version of a smile.
"You're too good to me, m'lady." He chuckled and nodded as she winked at him, sauntering off to retrieve her own food.
She returned quickly with her food and utensils for them both. "Well, don't get used to it. I'm not what one would consider a... 'good turian mate', as it were." She intoned, bringing up her fingers to air quote her comment. "I don't normally cook anything but rations, and well, you've seen my quarters. Organization and house tending is a toss-up." She flushed slightly, embarrassment crawling its way across up her face.
Garrus trilled sharply in disappointment, watching her blush even hotter before letting up and barking a laugh. "Well, it's a good thing I'm not a very good turian then, isn't it Vima?"
She looked up from her plate to him, and in a flash, her face went from a sheepish expression to indignation. "You dick! You actually had me thinking you were upset about it!" She reached over the table and punched him in the shoulder.
He winced, watching her expression slowly soften into bemused triumph as he rubbed his shoulder. He shook his head and hummed amused surprise. "One would think you hadn't noticed that I don't care about that sort of thing yet, the way you were acting. I figured I'd let you wallow in your shame for a few minutes, since you seemed so intent on it." He flicked a mandible out in a smirk.
"Damned turian." She said, rolling her eyes.
She registered movement behind him, and her eyes flicked towards it. She saw Chakwas moving towards one of the beds in the medbay. She suddenly realized it was Kaidan's, and growled. Garrus' attention snapped to her, then to the object of her ire, and joined her with his own growl. They watched as Chakwas changed the bandages on Kaidan's neck, checking the healing progress of the wounds, which they could see from their positions were healing cleanly.
Shepard snorted and ripped her attention away from the scene, down to her plate. "He doesn't deserve to stay on this ship." She seethed through clenched teeth, picking up her fork to begin prodding her food in an attempt to distract herself from doing what she really wanted to do: toss Kaidan's traitorous ass out of the nearest airlock.
She forcefully shoved her fork under a bit of food, and popped it into her mouth, chewing and going for the next bite. Just then, she realized how damn hungry she was. So much had happened in the past six hours, she'd barely had any time to think, let alone pay attention to her body's needs, and she began eagerly shoveling food into her mouth.
She paused when she heard a trill of surprised amusement instead of growling from across the table, and looked up at Garrus, swallowing quickly. "What?" she asked indignantly.
His right mandible flared out. "Hungry?"
Her eyes went wide as she nodded. "Starving." Her eyes returned hungrily to her plate as she continued to eat, ignoring his light laughter.
He fidgeted quietly, unable to shake the uncomfortable feeling he was overcome with ever since he'd awoken in the medbay after... the 'incident'. It wasn't just the itching of the bandages on his neck, or the pain of the sterilized, but otherwise unattended slashes in his face; no, this was another feeling entirely. It felt as if he were being... watched. He'd tried many times to turn about and see who might be doing the watching, but each time he'd been held back, either by the pain from the now mostly healed wounds in his neck, or by Dr. Chakwas admonishing him not to upset those very same wounds.
The feeling went as far as haunting him in his dreams. But even there, when he would turn to look, there would be nothing. Nothing but the feeling of someone watching him. By that point in the dream, he would shudder, and wake to the brightness of the medbay once more.
He had just woken from one such dream, closing his eyes in an attempt to shake off the feeling, when he felt the hand of Dr. Chakwas on his shoulder, softly shaking him as if to wake him. He opened his eyes, slowly focusing on her face as she spoke.
"I need to change your bandages, Kaidan." She said simply, and he nodded his acceptance of the intrusion.
As she got to work, he watched her face, noting the look of relief as the bandages gave way to what must've been nicely healing skin. "Looking much better today. You won't be in here much longer, I dare say." She commented with a slight smile. "You won't be needing these anymore, the wounds are healed well enough to go without them." She held up the wrapping she'd just removed from his neck as she spoke.
He nodded and offered a small smile. "Good to hear, they were getting a bit itchy."
Chakwas smiled understandingly as she handed him a tube of medigel. "Apply a dab of this to each side twice a day until it runs out, and they should heal up with little to no scarring."
"Thanks Doc." He nodded, then paused. "Doc, what about my face? Can't you do something for it?"
Her features hardened as her eyes regarded him with a steely gaze. "You know I can't, Kaidan. My loyalties lie with Shepard and the Alliance, and neither of them will side with you on the matter of your... indiscretion against her. What you did was completely reprehensible, no matter how it's looked at. Your wounds are healing well, and the marks on your face are clean, and will heal properly. That is all I can offer." She shook her head and turned to walk towards her desk.
Kaidan shook his own head in confusion. "Why are you so loyal to her, Doc? I can understand being loyal to the Alliance, but you haven't served with Shepard any longer than I have."
She stopped near her desk and turned to face him. "That's where you're wrong, Kaidan. I've known Taren since she was sixteen years old. I've been her primary physician since then, and she considers me a second mother, just as I consider her a daughter. I know more about her and her past than most on this ship. Things that are not in her records. She has saved my life in as many ways as I have saved hers. I owe her a great deal, just as she does me. I would not have been appointed as the doctor for this ship, had that not been the case."
Kaidan blinked in surprise. "Why wouldn't you have gotten this assignment? You're a great doctor, your skill speaks for itself."
Chakwas smiled. "Thank you Kaidan. But in answer to your question, we all have our secrets. Some are darker than others. Mine just happen to be dark enough to warrant more than a few lousy postings until now. Skill isn't everything, sadly."
She picked up a datapad and walked out of the medbay, indicating that the conversation – for her part, at least – was over.
Kaidan laid his head back and looked up at the ceiling, deep in thought.
["This is Rael'Zorah vas Neema, calling for Tali'Zorah nar Rayya."]
Tali rushed to the comms console in engineering, hurriedly keying on the vidscreen. "Hello father. It is good to see you."
A small sound of disapproval could be heard from the quarian on the screen. ["Pity it isn't under better circumstances. I still cannot believe you are withholding data from the Flotilla to send it to the damned Council first. Have you forgotten your duty to the Fleet, Tali? Has your pilgrimage truly changed you so much?"]
Tali hung her head as she wrung her hands worriedly. "No father, I haven't forgotten. The data will be sent soon."
Rael sighed. ["Very well. Onto the matter at hand."] He lowered his gaze to the omni-tool glowing on his wrist. ["Your message mentioned an intact geth unit cut off from the consensus and requesting an initial directive, and this Commander of yours wants to try to program it to serve her needs in this apparent war. Is that correct?"]
Tali nodded. "Yes father."
["Show me."] He demanded.
She stood aside, allowing the camera a full view of the Prime unit splayed out on the engineering deck's upper floor, complete with a trio of salarians, two guards hovering anxiously, and Dr. Chakwas standing by.
A barely audible gasp from the comms console snapped Tali's attention back to the screen.
Rael's eyes brightened behind his mask as he spoke barely above a whisper at first in his shock. ["Keelah, a Prime? Tali, you failed to mention it was a Prime unit you'd recovered! This is an extraordinary opportunity!"] His voice rose with his excitement.
Tali quirked her head to the side as her confusion relayed itself in her voice. "I don't understand father, why does the platform matter? I thought it was the programs the platform housed that mattered."
Rael adopted the tone of an impatient teacher trying to teach something that should be common knowledge to even a child. ["For normal units, that is what matters, yes. But a Prime is unique, in that it may house up to two-thousand programs on it independently, without requiring a hub, or other units near it to be intelligent, to learn and evolve. It eventually does need to connect via a hub for software updates from the geth consensus, but it is otherwise an autonomous unit. If we can program this unit successfully to assist us, it could indeed be a powerful ally in your Commander's little war, and perhaps beyond even that."]
Tali was nearly bouncing with excitement. "So you will help us program it?"
Rael nodded enthusiastically. ["Yes Tali. I will bring a small group of specialists with me. This will take a few days to organize however. What is your current heading?"]
Tali tapped a few commands into a nearby console. "We'll be at the Citadel in a week. Here are our current coordinates. We can meet you at any relay along the way."
Rael inclined his head. ["Very well. I shall send word when we are ready to depart, and leave a location for the rendezvous with your pilot. Be well, child. Keelah se'lai."]
"Keelah se'lai, father. See you soon."