Gabby is not just another pretty face -
*** DECK FOUR • ENGINEERING ***
· Gabby Gets A Surprise - Donnelly Gets Embarrassed ·
Major Alenko was talking to Chief Engineer Adams. As he was turning to leave, Tali entered through the port side door. "Good morning Tali. Ready to light a fire in the Normandy's belly?"
"Of what possible use would a fire be? Sounds dangerous," was her skeptical reply.
Donnelly and Daniels had entered through the starboard side door in time to hear the exchange. "It's old earth slang from the twentieth century Tali," Gabby said. "He's just asking if we're ready to restart the drive core."
Ken added, "Yeah, we're going to fire her up...that's more slang."
"Why would fire have anything to do with a drive core?"
Kaiden looked at Adams, who gave a slight nod. "Tali, they're joking with you. But, we do need to get the drive core back online. Are you ready to help us do that?"
"Of course," she said. "The Normandy has been ground side for too many days. It is past time we got her back in the sky and heading for our homes." She added, "However, I would feel better if we had a computer assisting in the process. Can we ask EDI to assist?"
"EDI's not part of the ship's systems any more." Adams answered. "However, we may know someone that can help."
*** DECK THREE • PORT SIDE CREW LOUNGE ***
Garrus Vakarian was relaxing in the crew lounge, staring idly through the window at the world outside. It was very rare that the Normandy was ever planet side, just because it was such a large ship - it was simply more efficient to use a shuttle for ground-side missions. This grounding hadn't been anyone's choice. It simply had to be done. Garrus was amazed Joker was able to set the Normandy down so gently, as the mass effect field was dying with the drive core shutdown. It could have gone wrong in so many ways. The appearance of Shepard's avatar adjacent to the view port blast shield control jolted him out of his thoughts. "Hi Garrus," came a cheery voice. "been doing any target shooting lately?"
"Spirits, Shepard. I thought you were dead, again! I know what EDI said in our meeting, and I still didn't believe you could have survived that blast of energy."
"I was part of that blast of energy, Garrus. And you do remember, don't you, there's no Vakarian without Shepard. I also seem to recall being told by a certain turian that drinks are on him this time 'round? Don't know how I'm supposed to even have a drink now...maybe through an emergency induction port?"
Garrus stood and walked to Shepard's avatar. "It appears you have a grasp of how to run around this ship." He could feel the emptiness in his heart beginning to recede, like a weight lifting. "Hell, Commander, we were all feeling lost without you. You sure it's really you under all the violet and red paint? Anyone could have programmed your voice..."
"...But not my memories, Garrus." She finished his thought. "I've already told EDI you're the king of the bottle shooters. I'm the only person that knows two other things about you."
"And those would be..." he asked?
"How you spared Sidonis' life when I asked." He looked at the floor and chuckled in his throat at this. "Kind of hard to shoot him with your head in the way, Shepard. So, what was the other thing that only you know about me?"
"I told you before the final battle on Earth that if I didn't make it and you did, I would be looking down, and I would always have your back. I still am, and I still do."
Garrus turned and walked towards the gaming table to in an effort to hide his discomfort. "Okay. Now, tell me how you intend to get free of the Normandy's computer. We rescued David Archer from Grissom Academy. If he's still alive, he may have some insight into how we can regain your mobility, independent of the Normandy."
The beginning of a deep-seated vibration could be felt, as the drive core restart was initiated. "Garrus, at this point, let's just worry about getting to our home systems, or at least moving in that direction. I'm monitoring the engine restart on the bridge with Joker and on deck four, and I'm attempting to talk some sense into Javik in regards to his superiority complex."
"Dammit, Rachaél. Be careful. Don't spread yourself too thin."
The use of her given name was not lost on Shepard. "I'll be fine, Garrus. Just be sure the big gun is still correctly calibrated. We may have to use it at some point." Hell, she was sure she would have to use it, but that was a conversation for another time. "We'll talk later."
*** DECK FOUR • ENGINEERING ***
"Did someone just request a computer presence?" The voice sounded very familiar to Donnelly and Daniels. They both looked to their left, first at Tali, then at Alenko and Adams. Tali walked past the console and took a few steps into the short passageway to the drive core monitoring station. As she did so, an apparition in near ultraviolet and red materialized just to the left of Donnelly's console and said, "I am ready to assist you, Engineers Donnelly, Daniels. I agree with Tali'Zorah. The Normandy has been out of her element for too long, as have I."
Donnelly's mouth fell open as he backed away from his console. Gabby moved towards the brilliant glow from the dodecahedron and said hesitantly, "Commander Shepard? Is that really you?"
"It's me, Gabby. Not in the flesh, but it is me. Tell me, does Ken still like your legs, or has he been admiring other parts of your anatomy? I expect he's learned to have a healthy fear of those legs after the incident in the shuttle bay. I heard what you did to my...er, Vega's souvenir."
"Oh, Commander! It is so good to hear your voice! How did you...what happened to you on the Citadel?" Gabby wiped her eyes. She was finding it difficult to talk as her throat tightened with emotion. "God, Commander, I thought..." she looked at Ken, then at Alenko, Adams and Tali in turn, "...we all thought you were..." she couldn't say the word.
"Dead, Gabby," Shepard finished for her. "I'm sorry, but the word you're searching for is 'dead'. And, when I fired the Crucible, my body, my physical shell, actually did die there. But that which is me survived. I think all the things Thane Krios told me about the body and the spirit within the body being two distinct things must have some basis in fact." She paused, thinking of the drell's final wishes for her before his death. '...and she will be a companion to you as she was to me.' Continuing, she said thoughtfully, "I can still feel Thane's presence on this ship, his spirit. Sounds crazy, but for an assassin, his spirituality was astonishing. I regret I did not know him better."
Shepard continued, "I really don't know exactly how my spiritual self was transported here. EDI says it may have had something to do with all the Cerberus cyber-crap implants in my physical body being 'tied' to this ship, since the implants and this ship were all produced by Cerberus, and a lot of that was based on Reaper tech. The most important thing for you to know, Gabby," she paused, then continued, "for all of you to realize, is I'm here, I'm still alive, and as I now reside in the computer core on this vessel, I am the Normandy."
Gabby's eyes narrowed and she pointed at Shepard. "It was you," she said accusingly. "Wasn't it? You aborted the startup sequence yesterday! What tipped you off? How did you know what to do? I was so upset, and you let me..."
"Gabby, I sensed the error in your code and overrode the startup sequence in plenty of time to prevent a meltdown. I left the evidence for Adams to find, because I wasn't ready to reveal my presence. Hell, I had no interface. Which, by the way, is really elegant. It's Tali's design. Like it?" she finished, spinning around once as she deftly changed the subject. "If I had your legs, perhaps I could get Donnelly to comment on my figure," she said, in a tone suggesting she was speaking with a really wicked grin.
Donnelly stammered a reply, his highlands accent becoming thicker as his embarrassment grew, "I would never do that, Commander...you're the commander, ya know?" His discomfort grew, as did the redness in his cheeks. "It wouldn't be proper for me to comment on...er...notice, how well...how nicely, you are...were...ah...put together." Everyone in engineering was covering their mouths, doing their best (snickers and giggles notwithstanding) to conceal their amusement at Donnelly's discomfort.
"Why, thank you, Kenneth. It's nice to know you noticed me for my attributes, and not just asari matriarchs or EDI. Just make sure the only female you continue to notice in future is Ms. Daniels. It'll probably be healthier for you." Snickers and giggles grew louder. Donnelly's blush extended down his neck and past his ears. Shepard was afraid Adams was going to fall over, he was trying so hard to keep a straight face. A stammered "Yes, ma'am" was all Donnelly could manage.
Turning serious, Shepard continued, "Now, let's get this ship moving again. All of you have had a really nice, long vacation, but it's time we went home. Let's bring the reactors online and get the drive core running again, while we still have enough fuel on board to get us back in the sky and out of this system, wherever we are."
Gabby grinned. "Aye aye, Ma'am. Ken, get to your station. Tali, I'd like your help with inputting code so Shepard doesn't have to perform another pre-emptive shutdown. And Commander..." she said, looking at Shepard's ultraviolet and red form. "...it's damned good to have you back on this ship! You belong here, in whatever form you choose. Tali, you are an artist. Nice job."
As Adams went to his console; Alenko said, "Good luck, people. Be careful," then left the engineers to their task.
*** DECK TWO • BRIDGE ***
At the same time Shepard was reintroducing herself to Gabby, Donnelly and Adams, she was also reintroducing herself to Joker on the bridge. Her avatar was sitting to the left side of his chair, base positioned between the covers for the cyber warfare and weapons controls. These were also within her purview as ship's computer. Shepard had been working very meticulously on learning every nook and cranny of the commuter core, as it was likely to be her home for some time to come. EDI had shown her where to place herself in the unlikely event of a power failure or forced restart. Shepard had already decided that nobody was going to perform a shutdown of the core. She had learned a great deal about her new environment since her arrival, and had reconfigured several key areas with new software to prevent remote tampering with her power supply.
She had learned, with EDI's assistance, how to multi-task in different locations in the ship, so while she was monitoring the startup sequence in engineering, she was also observing the process from Joker's perspective. She was talking to Joker as she watched the progress down below. "I'm glad you were able to put the ship down without further damage, Joker. I'm not sure, but I feel as if we are quite some distance from a repair port." The Normandy was beginning to pulse with life, as if its heart was being restarted after a long rest. "I'm also happy nobody tried to get a message out. The Reapers are still running around out there. I may have stopped them, and they may be helping with reconstruction, but I need more information on their current status, and I don't want them to be aware the Normandy still exists...not yet, anyway."
"That may be hard to do, Commander," was Joker's reply. "How do we keep them from detecting our signature once we're flying again? We're still wired with the Reaper IFF - will that be enough to deceive them? And if I recall, it was your choice to stir in all the synthetic parts for us organics - did the Reapers gain some organic parts in the exchange? Will they even bother us?"
"They must have had organic material added to their machine hearts. We'll monitor their communications on a stealth basis. Keep our transponder offline," she responded. "I don't trust them." Continuing in a darker tone, almost to herself, "I never will."
She added, "Be sure to perform an external sensor sweep of our hull as soon as we're off the surface. I don't want any surprise decompressions in space. Begin your pre-flight checklist. I want you ready to lift off as soon as the drive core is back to full power. I believe we have about forty-three minutes. Your pre-flight should take thirty-five to complete. Have EDI come up to assist."
"Aye, Ma'am. It's good to have you back on...er, in...the ship."
*** DECK FOUR • JAVIK'S QUARTERS ***
As the core restart began, Shepard continued to visit her team. She appeared in Javik's quarters about the same time she appeared in the cockpit with Joker, setting her avatar just to the left of the wash basin at which the prothean could normally be found. "Javik?"
He appeared to have been unaware of her appearance. Turning his attention to her, he asked, "Is that you, Commander? Are you now a machine, such as the EDI creature, or the geth? Are you now able to do more than simply dim the lights?"
"Actually, Javik, I am the Normandy. And I understand the meeting to announce the inaccuracy of the rumors concerning my death did not go so well. You still having a problem with machine intelligence?"
Javik looked at her intently, studying the rotating dodecahedron and the orbiting ring below. "I simply spoke my mind, Commander. Or should I just call you 'Shepard'? Do you still have a military rank? You have Alliance and N7 badges on your facets. As a computer aboard an Alliance warship, what title do you now hold?" He moved, placing his left hand squarely in the middle of the apparition in front of him, then drew it back swiftly, as if he had touched a live wire. Normally, touching anything gave Javik insight into everything about the object or being he touched. There was no insight to be gained from touching Shepard's avatar. It was a cold apparition, created out of thin air by holographic projectors.
"You can still call me 'Commander', Javik. My physical body died - it became part of the burst of green energy that propelled the Normandy, and my...essence, if you will, to this spot in the galaxy. The geth, EDI, the machines that tried to destroy us, are all partially organic now. All organics, including yourself, have become partially synthetic. You are now carrying an almost infinitesimal speck of my very own DNA, Javik. I had to add my own energy, my body, to the energy generated by the Catalyst in order to create this new reality. The DNA of every living creature has been fused with something new. Have you seen your eyes in a mirror, prothean? They have the merest hint of a kaleidoscopic green tinge, same as my eyes used to have a hint of red behind the pupils, a reminder of my restoration by Cerberus."
Javik started to speak, but was interrupted by Shepard. "I brought you along, Javik, so Cerberus wouldn't turn you into a Collector - the last Collector. Specialist Traynor regrets I didn't toss you out an airlock once we left Eden Prime; neither Traynor nor Alenko have much sympathy for you. I don't see things the same way - never did."
"Then why, Commander? Why am I here? You should have let me die on your planet. I am the last of..."
"Dammit Javik, you are here because you are the last of your kind! You should try speaking to Liara T'Soni, really speaking to her, not at her, as if she is some primitive cave dweller! Hell, you treated all of us worse than children, incapable of intelligent thought. The protheans fought the reapers for centuries, and still lost. We managed to delay a Reaper invasion and defeat the heretic geth three years ago, and we just ended a full-scale war with the metal bastards in less than a year. We united an entire galaxy to our cause, and we didn't have to sacrifice our souls to get the job done. I'd say that should earn all of us some respect, especially from you."
Javik looked down, a bit taken aback by Shepard's forcefulness. "I am sorry, Commander Shepard. It is hard for me to forget old ways of thinking, to embrace new concepts. I will go to the asari's...to Liara T'Soni's cabin and ask her forgiveness, if she will accept it. It will not be easy for me, but I will do it for you, Commander."
"Don't do it for me, Javik. Do it for yourself and for Liara," Shepard replied. "She will accept your apology, if you are sincere. Don't just say what you think she wishes to hear this time, okay? And while you are there, talk to Samantha Traynor as well. She needs to know the prothean on board isn't going to stick a knife in her back while she's sleeping. If you wish me to be present, I will be there, but I really believe you need to do this on your own."
"Thank you, Commander Shepard I will do as you suggest."
Shepard's avatar began to dissolve. "Logging you out, Javik."
*** ALL DECKS • NORMANDY ***
"Okay Joker, time to see if we can still fly," Shepard said. "Checklist done?"
In engineering, Shepard asked, "Daniels, Donnelly, Adams? Is everything ready? Tali, you okay back there?"
They all replied in turn: "My board's green, Commander." "Everything's peachy, ma'am." "Systems are running within specs, Commander." "Fire's lit, Shepard."
"Okay, let's..." in engineering and on the bridge simultaneously, "...get this ship airborne, Joker."
"Yes ma'am!" was the enthusiastic reply. Fingers flying over the controls, he eased the ship straight up several meters and stabilized its attitude; EDI engaged the inertial dampeners as Joker gradually applied atmospheric thrusters; easing the ship forward and up, he gradually increased their forward speed and rate of climb until they were at maximum safe velocity. As the air thinned with altitude, EDI conducted her external hull integrity inspection. Finding nothing but some fresh scratches, she concluded her inspection and said to Joker, "I believe we can safely transition out of the atmosphere, Jeff. Hull pressurization is complete. Life support and HVAC are operating within specifications. All departments are reporting checklists complete. It is time to head for home, Flight Lieutenant."
"That's the best news I've heard in weeks, EDI." As the ship reached the outer fringes of planetary atmosphere, Joker seamlessly shut down the atmospheric thrusters as he engaged the anti-proton thrusters, their visible exhaust changing from dark blue to a blue-tinged white-hot glow as the throttles were opened up. "So, where are we, and which way do I point this thing so we can find some H3?"
Finally, the Normandy is on its way. And with the addition of this chapter, everyone finally gets to see Shepard's avatar - at least the top section. Thanks to my talented son, Erik, for turning my idea into violet and black. Not really enough room in the 'box' for the pedestal. Also, thanks to Mighty Crouton for a suggestion regarding Cartesian Dualism. It's an interesting concept, one I find fits in with Shepard's new situation. Finally, thanks to all for reading and reviewing.