A/N: This is the last thing I have written on EAHE for now, and I'm not sure when I'll get to write more, but I'll update as soon as I can. Promise. :3


Puggles

"Sir, I ... think she's fucking with us."

Couzier didn't hear the aide at first, too busy running data from Shepard's last exam while the Spectre paced on a camera just by his arm. At his repeat of his previous statement, Couzier looked up and silently stuck his hand out for the datapad.

The day before Couzier had authorized extremely limited and very monitored extranet access to Shepard's terminal, with only two sites allowed past the firewall: the Citadel News Network, and by that, only the main page that showed various headlines with severe blacking-out from Echidna censoring, and a couple sites he'd told her to read during her exam the day before. Apparently Shepard had determined that she could view the extranet's main search engine as well, even if all of her searches would take her to a blacklisted page, and had also realized that people were monitoring her use in case she'd taken a few hacking pointers from her quarian friend or somesuch. And, apparently, she was quite enjoying herself.

Recent Search Usage: Terminal 81b:

echidna

echidna the mammal

seriously what sort of name is that

it's a small egg-laying mammal and you should be ashamed

so your new recruits are called puggles right?

i looked that up before i got here

i thought i might need it

you know what an echidna is?

a 'small solitary mammal'

good organization name

at least Cerberus was sort of intimidating

in a 'big three-headed dog guarding the gates of hell' way

as opposed to a 'small spiky mammal that doesn't even have venomous spikes' way

He didn't bother to read the rest, and silently handed it back. "Block that site. Perhaps that will make her spend her time in a more conducive manner."

"Yes, sir."

#

"I am the Catalyst."

For some reason this felt familiar.

Everything did. The Ward arms of the Citadel opened, the great hulking form of the Crucible overheat, the dull roar in her ears and the wet copper taste of blood on her tongue and the warm red that covered her arm and her side, the pain of burnt ceramic dripping onto her numbed skin that somehow she didn't feel — nor did she taste, nor feel at all. And yet she did - or she thought she should.

But she just saw, and heard.

It was still familiar, down to the glowing child in front of her. He was familiar too, but not familiar enough to bring him to mind.

He was explaining something. Something about the Reapers — about synthetics and organics and war and peace. She could barely make it out, let alone follow it. Maybe it'd be easier if she just closed her eyes for a moment ...

Whenever she spoke in this dream it was like she was repeating herself, like she was trying to reconstruct an argument through the heaviest fog to ever pierce her mind. Combine with the Reapers ... control them ... destroy them. For some reason those phrases seemed important.

"Then let's get this over with," she hissed through clenched teeth, stumbling towards the volatile-looking tube to her right.

"Wait." Was that desperation? She smirked through the pain as she turned back.

"What? Oh, I'm sorry, you wanted to tell me which one you thought was better?"

"Synthesis is the ultimate evolution! Your kind is-"

"No," she said flatly. "I don't need a lecture in morality from a fucking pint-sized crazy AI."

"This is not about-"

"If you take away our morality we're no better than you." She turned back, dragging her increasingly numbing body forward. "Welcome to evolution, bitch." Raising her gun, she opened fire, murmuring under her breath with each word punctuated by a round.

"I will see you in hell."

Shepard was jolted awake again, not for the first time. She dragged her hands across her eyes, waiting for them to adjust to the dark room. She was still in her cell, the red bleep of a camera in a corner trained at her. Shepard blinked at it a couple times, then changed the way she was lying and sighed heavily.

This wasn't the first time she'd had this dream. It seemed important, like it was something she'd forgotten that had severe ramifications for something.

Strangely, she'd smelled it. The ozone of the Citadel's exterior, of the space-battle echoing around her; the taste of blood and bile so strong on her tongue that she thought her mouth and throat had been torn to shreds.

You weren't supposed to be able to taste in dreams, were you? Or smell? She groaned and rolled over onto her other side, beating her pillow into a more comfortable lump. And what had he been saying — the glowing thing that had talked to her? Something about controlling the Reapers ... or was it joining the Reapers? Or was it both? But she'd obviously destroyed them — the corpses of the Reapers in orbit around Earth, and still fallen on Thessia and Tuchanka and Palavan were evidence of that.

So what the fuck was going on?

She knew that, from what she'd read, that pregnancy fucked with a woman's head. Maybe her hormones were running wild, making her invent these things.

Or ... maybe she wasn't inventing it. Maybe it was memories coming back.

Shepard shook her head, pulling her covers over her head and curling into as tight a ball as possible. She didn't need this bullshit.

#

Shepard spent the next two weeks or so pretending to cooperate.

It seemed to be working. As she pretended to have given up any hope of getting out, she found that her guards had started to fall lax in their security. They didn't decrease in number, but they did start to pay less attention to her, and they'd started to let her stay unrestrained.

That was how, during her fourth exam since she'd tested out the sedative, she managed to break Couzier's nose (and probably a few facial bones), take out four of her eight guards, and make a break into the hallway. She took out another from around a corner, delighted that he had a kinetic weapon that she quickly relieved him of. With it she managed to take out the last four guards following her with well-placed headshots.

Shepard knew about where Joker was being held. Holding her gun ready she sprinted forward, gunning down another guard as the alarm rang around her.

They were awfully slow on the alarms, she noticed.

She figured she was probably about halfway there when she turned a corner and skidded to a stop, nearly running straight into an Echidna riot squad.

"Put the gun down, Major," the riot leader demanded. Shepard stumbled a few steps back, preparing to swing around back to a different route, only for the rest of the squad to cut her off.

"Fuck," she murmured, sighing heavily. "All right," Shepard called, dropping the gun and kicking it away. Almost immediately the riot leader was on her, kicking the gun further away and twisting her arm behind her back, pushing her into the wall. Shepard stopped herself from hitting the wall with her free hand, struggling slightly but otherwise compliant. It'd be back to the drawing board now. Her stomach fell. She'd killed at least three of their men, and possibly the doctor — there was no way Joker was getting off as easily as before. And it was her fault for not having been fast enough.

Although they hadn't accounted for scrambling the riot squad so quickly. Joker would have to do more research.

"We've subdued the subject," the riot squad captain was saying into his comm, still pressing Shepard to the wall. "Orders."

A few minutes later he pulled Shepard off the wall, and she found herself immediately surrounded by the rest of the squad.

"You have a major problem, Shepard," he snarled, as he applied pressure to her arm and pushed her forward, back towards her cell. She half-laughed.

"I'd say being stuck here is a major problem, yes," she agreed. She could feel him scowling, but he didn't reply until her cell door was opened. Once inside the riot squad slowly backed out, and Shepard glared back at the door as the locks chimed.

She hadn't seen Couzier when she was being brought back in. They might be really screwed if she'd killed him, though she suspected headbutting him in the face may have had that effect.

::Like I was saying,:: the riot squad leader said over the intercom. She looked up, clenching her fists. ::You have a serious problem.::

"Go to hell."

::I'd be a bit nicer right now, considering where I am.::

Shepard sank down on the edge of her bed, closing her eyes. "Don't. Just ... don't, all right?"

::Sorry. Boss' orders.:: There was a pause. ::Say hello to your so-called friend.::

::Hey, Shep. So. Not a good plan, huh?:: Shepard ducked her head slightly.

"Not the best, no." The only good thing about this situation was that they'd been taking good care of him — too good to just kill him now. It didn't make knowing what was about to happen any easier.

::Don't worry, these guys look pretty nice so far.::

"Joker —"

::Hey, no worries. Bound to happen sooner or later.::

The intercom clicked off, and she dug her fingers into the side of her cot. The waiting was really the worst, coupled with the unknown. How bad would it be? It couldn't be too bad — right? Because if it was, she'd never forgive herself ... She drew a deep breath, waiting, her knuckles turning white with her grip.

The intercom clicked back on, and her head jerked up. "Joker?" she called, voice wavering slightly.

::Oh, he'll be fine,:: the squad leader replied. ::He's just in a little bit of pain right now.::

"Fuck you," she snapped. "Joker!"

::Don't worry ... you still gotta put up with me.:: She slumped back when Joker finally answered her, even if it sounded like he was answering her through his teeth.

::That being said ... he won't be so lucky next time, Major. Take that into account the next time you wanna do something stupid.::

Shepard ducked her head with a weak nod. To say that the failed attempt this time was disheartening would be true; but to say she didn't already have a second plan would be equally as wrong.

"Will you give him medical attention?" she asked quietly.

::Boss' orders. Just don't do it again.::

She nodded weakly again, letting herself collapse back to the bed as the intercom clicked off.

Oh, they'd do it again ... but they'd do it better.

#

S: You okay?

[Message Log: Gap of 10 minutes]

J: Yeah. Fine.

S: You sure?

J: Yeah. Just a clean break across my shin. Casted it and everything as soon as the swelling went down. Should be fine in a week or so.

S: Fuck. I'm sorry.

J: We gotta get out of here, Shep, I knew it was probably gonna happen.

J: We need a new plan.

S: Joker, I don't know. Maybe we shouldn't.

J: You listen here

J: We don't have time for this bullshit

J: You got what a month before you start complaining about being the size of a whale

J: And as soon as you're down we're fucked

J: I ain't getting out of here on my own and unless Alenko gets hella lucky they're not gonna find us

J: So you stop that mopey bullshit right now

S: ok.

J: Shep

S: I said ok

J: We just need a better plan this time, ok. Got anything?

S: A bit of one. But with this setback —

J: Fill me in.