"System sweep: complete for sectors 8192 to 12227."
"Good. Any problems?"
"Sector 9176 was infected with a virus, but this unit was able to counteract the infection before it contaminated any other sectors."
"Nice job. Ok, move on to sectors 12228 to 16383."
Jeff yawned, and tried to find a more comfortable way to sit in his chair. It was great for flying, but not so great for napping.
Traynor looked up from her notes. "I'm sorry," she said, "This must be very boring for you."
Jeff shrugged. "It's not like I have anything better to do. And there's something soothing about hearing EDI's voice reading off all those numbers." Traynor wasn't too bad to listen to either, with her sexy British accent. She was easy on the eyes, too, when he could bother to keep them open.
Traynor laughed. "I thought it was just me. Though I'd describe her voice as more sexy than soothing."
"You're an analyst," said Jeff. "You think anyone reading numbers is sexy." He leaned closer and leered. "Maybe I should try it. Five. Twelve. Six million point three. Doing anything for you?"
Traynor stepped back ever so slightly and gave him an apologetic smile. "Sorry Joker. Those are some sexy numbers, but I'm only into women. And...female voiced VIs, apparently."
Jeff held a hand to his forehead and looked distraught, though he'd mostly been kidding. "Upstaged by a computer!" he said. "If it was anyone but EDI I'd be offended, but she does have a pretty sexy voice." Too sexy by half, if you asked him.
"This unit's voice was programmed by Cerberus engineers to maximise audibility and the emotional wellbeing of the crew," said EDI, in the flat stilted speech she affected around the Alliance crew. "If the current vocal settings are not satisfactory, they can be changed."
"Oh, no," said Traynor, "Sexy is good!" She patted a nearby bulkhead. "Stay sexy, EDI!"
"As you wish," said EDI, and Jeff had to stop himself from snickering.
So obviously, Shepard being decommissioned was bullshit. She'd done everything she could to save those Batarians, she'd sure as hell tried harder than Jeff would have to save the four eyed slaving bastards, and the colony would have all died anyway the moment the Reapers hit. Along with everyone else in the galaxy. Forcing her to hang around on Earth doing nothing was a waste of time and resources that should be being spent getting ready for the coming invasion.
But he had to admit, it was kind of nice to be in one place again for a while. Sure, the threat of imminent extinction was hanging over all their heads, but there wasn't much point in him worrying about it right this minute. For the moment he was enjoying having a chance to kick back and enjoy the sights of Earth. Or at least Canada. Unlike his last extended "holiday", Jeff had a job and a ship to go back to, even if the Normandy was grounded and covered in techs instead of up in space where she belonged. Plus Shepard wasn't actually dead this time. That was nice.
Today, he was shirt shopping. The last time he'd snuck aboard the Normandy after hours to have a proper conversation with EDI she'd teased him about his taste in clothes, saying that she was glad he was forced to wear an Alliance uniform when he was on duty. So he was going to impre... to show her that she was talking out of her steel plated metal ass.
He poked at the button for the elevator and thought about what style he should look out for. Something sharp. Maybe blue, EDI seemed to like blue. And there was a tailor on the top floor he'd heard good things about...The bland tone of the mall VI broke him out of his reverie.
"The Toronto Eaton Centre apologises for the inconvenience, but all elevators are currently out of service. If possible, please take advantage of the stairs to your left. If you are unable to use the stairs, please press the button again, and your omnitool will be provided with the location of the nearest ramp."
"Seriously?" Well this was just perfect, there went all the time and energy he'd saved up for shirt shopping. If he was lucky, the ramp wouldn't be far away. But when was he ever lucky? Jeff could have scanned in his measurements and bought the shirt on the extranet like a normal person, but nooo, he had to get fancy. He pushed the button again, and looked at the map that came up on his omnitool. Ok, not too far then. Good.
He was trying to figure out why the map had apparently led him to the garden area in the middle of the mall when he felt a bump from behind. Ug. Just because he walked slowly was no reason for people to get all up in his business. He turned around, irritated, only to be faced with a very abashed looking Asari.
"I'm so sorry!" she said. "I'm still getting the hang of these new prosthetic legs." She gestured downwards, as if her legs looked different from anyone else's under an ankle length dress. Well, apart from the fact that they were kind of short. Looking at her childish face and wide eyed expression Jeff judged her to be the asari equivalent of a teenager. She certainly wasn't as mind numbingly sexy as most asari, she veered more towards adorable. Which was actually pretty disturbing, Jeff didn't usually find anyone adorable, teenaged or not. Damn asari and their sneaky pheromones. He'd resent them for it more if they weren't all so gosh darned cute.
"Oh, hey, no problem," he said. "So, you're looking for the ramp as well?"
The girl nodded. "I should be able to walk up stairs eventually but right now I don't trust myself not to fall down and break my head open."
"Join the club," said Joker. "And I wish I could help you, but the map I was given led me to this park. Which is pretty and all, but not very helpful."
"I was given the same map," said the asari. "Maybe if I..." She poked at her omni tool with a flicker of blue fingers, then frowned at the patch of greenery in front of them with narrowed eyes. "Wait, there it is!" she said pointing upwards. He looked over, and sure enough, there above the tree tops was a ramp up to the higher levels.
"Great!" said Jeff. "Now, how the hell do we get to it?"
They eventually found a path that snaked through the garden, past fountains and benches and though green tinged patches of filtered sunlight. This mall was ridiculously huge.
The asari babbled at Jeff nervously the whole way. Her name was Teesha, and she was visiting Earth with her father, a turian diplomat, while she took a break from school after the shuttle accident that had caused her to lose both her legs. Teesha was enjoying the trip, she found Toronto, and human society in general, endlessly fascinating. Jeff felt like some native villager being ogled by a breathless tourist from More Civilised lands, which is pretty much exactly what he was. He got the feeling Teesha had been too shy to talk to any other humans before now.
"What was it like finding out that other sentient species existed?" she asked.
"You'd have to ask someone who remembers it," said Joker. "I was barely a toddler."
Her eyes grew even more huge. "But it was less than forty years ago!" she said. "Even I can remember back that far. And you look at least...oh." She made a flapping motion with her hands and ducked her head. "How silly of me, of course, your species ages quickly, like turians. That must be so strange, not having anyone around who remembers back more than a few hundred years!"
Jeff barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He might not remember back to when humans first encountered aliens, but he remembered what an ass he'd made of himself when he'd first encountered them, and tried to cut her a little slack. "You get used to it," he said. God this kid could talk, though, and he really wasn't in the mood for playing tour guide slash babysitter all day.
"You know, you don't have to wait up for me," he said. Teesha was a little wobbly on her feet, but she was obviously slowing herself down to keep pace with Jeff's slow lurch.
"I like talking to you," she said. "You're nice!" Great, first girl to pay him any attention in months, and it was some alien chick who was both too young for him and probably twice his age. Jeff sighed and kept walking.
Stepping onto the incline of the ramp Jeff's leg bones began to complain about being put under strain for so long. He winced and stopped for a moment to rest against the railing. Teesha gave him a sad puppy dog look.
"You get used to this as well," he said.
"...kind of. Anyway, you shouldn't have anything to worry about, couple of months and those prosthetics will be as natural to your as your old legs were." God, was he really doing the inspiring cripple thing? Apparently, yes. He gave her a friendly smile and tried not to feel like all the grinning grownups full of platitudes he'd despised so much when he was a kid. "I know everyone says you can do anything if you try, and that's not strictly true. I don't think either of us are going to be, like...ballet dancers any time soon. But if I can be the best pilot in the galaxy - and I am - then you can totally be the best...varren trainer, or whatever. Walking funny doesn't mean you can't live a pretty good life."
Teesha giggled. "I don't want to be a varren trainer," she said.
"Well, you don't have to be. But you can, is all I'm saying."
She gave a very pretty smile. "Thank you," she said.
Once they finally reached the top of the ramp she gave him a friendly little wave and Jeff smiled and gave a friendly little wave back. As he headed towards the tailor Jeff felt all warm and fuzzy about Teesha and her future for about five minutes, until it occurred to him that what with the Reapers and all her future prospects were probably pretty bleak. Great. This was why he didn't like talking to people. It just caused trouble.
Things were really coming together on the Normandy, she felt like a real Alliance ship again. A lot of the changes were as superficial as the new coat of blue paint covering the shiny metal body Cerberus had built for her, but it wasn't until Cortez and the others had rejigged stuff like the armoury back to fit Alliance regs that Jeff noticed how subtly wrong the Cerberus setup had felt. And the new communications capabilities would be useful, even if his head hurt every time EDI or Traynor tried to explain to him how they worked.
"You know, you guys have done a nice job here," he said to Traynor over the lunch table.
"Was that a compliment?" she said. "After all the time you spent whining about how we were messing up your ship?"
'Well, yeah," he said. "I mean...you were changing the flight controls. That stuff's personal. But on the whole...I like it. The ship looks nice. I'm sure Shepard will like it too."
"You mean Anderson," said Traynor.
Jeff rolled his eyes. "Sure, sure, Anderson. When he uses it to swan around the galaxy fancy free, because there's no Reapers coming and noone needs Shepard any more."
"Don't be like that," said Traynor. "For what it's worth, I genuinely believe you about the Reapers. And I hope they do reinstate Shepard, I think she's a hero. But...I think you have to be realistic. I know you were attached to your old crew, but once a ship's been reassigned it's not just a matter of..."
EDI's voice cut through the lunch time throng, not sounding flat at all this time but urgent with tension. "There's an alert on Alliance channels," she said. "Earth appears to be under attack."
Traynor froze, her eyes filled with terror, a lab tech in charge of a war ship suddenly at war. "Attack?" she asked, her voice cracking. "From who?"
"Reapers," said EDI, and just like that the holiday was over.