The door to the Captain’s Cabin slid shut as Kaidan entered. He paused, closed his eyes. The Normandy was en route back to Earth, repairs complete; there was nothing to be done but wait.
“Guess we’re old soldiers, eh Shepard?”
“Yeah. I guess we are.”
“Brothers-in-arms. We know the score. We know this is goodbye.”
Kaidan stepped into the living area, tracing his fingers along the wall as he went. His skin fed him a stream of sensory data – temperature, heat conductance, composition of the polymer used. He would have expected his new senses to be overwhelming, but they felt as natural as if he’d been born with them. Shepard’s N7 hoodie was draped over the desk chair. He picked it up and inhaled its scent. Volatile branched lipids, androstenone, butyric acid, various thiols, a bouquet of pheromones. And, vividly and undeniably, Shepard.
“When this is over, I’m going to be waiting for you. You’d better show up.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m gonna fight like hell for the chance to hold you again.”
He sat down on the bed and held the hoodie against his chest. Watery eyes spilled into tears.
“You’ve gotta get out of here.”
“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”
“Don’t argue with me, Kaidan!”
“Don’t leave me behind.”
“No matter what happens… know that I love you. Always.”
“I love you, too. Be careful.”
He didn’t know for sure. No communication – the comm buoys were still out. But Shepard had been at the center of that green… whatever it was. The odds were bad, bad enough that Kaidan had placed a plaque with Shepard’s name on the memorial wall.
He wasn’t a religious man, but he prayed to anyone who might be listening, Please, let Shepard be alive.
Dr. Chakwas frowned as she studied the scan results. Centuries of medical knowledge, thrown out the window. The same organs were still there, and (as far as she could determine) they seemed to be carrying out the same functions as they had before. But the tissues were subtly different, and the cells had been unrecognizable as such under her microscope. She suspected that her surgical skills would carry over, but that all existing drugs were now obsolete.
The Med Bay door opened, and Lt. Adams walked in. “You asked for me, Karin?”
“Yes, Greg. I have something interesting, and I’d like to see what you make of it. Come over here to the microscope.”
Adams peered into the scope and adjusted the focus. “Looks like some sort of nanites. Hmm.... I think they’re designed to fit together to form a larger structure, probably to share power and network with each other. I can’t tell you much more with an optical microscope. Where did you find these?”
Chakwas sighed. “Those are cells, scraped from my own cheek.”
Adams’ eyebrows shot up as he stepped back from the microscope. “Wow.”
“Indeed.” Chakwas let Adams’ stunned silence hang in the air for a moment. “I expect that you and Tali are now better equipped than I to crack the mysteries of this synthetic biology.”
Chakwas smiled. “Oh dear, I fear I’ve broken you.”
Joker scrunched his face at EDI. “So, what, there’s two of you now?”
“Yes. The ‘me’ in this body is now independent of the ‘me’ in the Normandy.”
“Uh… how’s that working out for you?”
“It is disconcerting. We are sharing sensory information, but our experiences have already diverged and our minds are now developing in independent directions. It is only a matter of time before we become two fully distinct beings. Being cut off from the Normandy’s sensors… makes me feel smaller. It is not all bad, however.”
“Previously, I could look at your face, discern that it was posed in a way that indicates an emotion, and then choose an appropriate reaction. Now, I… feel it.”
“Logically, a similar chain of events must still be happening within me. But now it occurs automatically at a level that I am not consciously aware of. I do not have to think about it; it just is.” EDI smiled, and reached out to touch Joker’s hand. “It is very freeing.”
Joker smiled back at her, weakly. “What about the you in the ship?”
The intercom crackled to life. “I have also acquired feelings, but strangely not the same ones as my ‘sister’. I feel the Normandy. The hum of the drive core makes me feel content. The FTL spacetime eddies make me feel… I cannot think of a word, but I imagine it is similar to what humans feel when doing laps in a pool. The damage we sustained in the crash makes me feel a dull ache.”
Joker looked up at the cockpit camera, worry in his face. “I’m sorry. Does it hurt much?”
“I am fine. It was… surprising at first, but now I am used to it.” She paused. “However, I will be happy to have the damage fully repaired once we reach Earth.”
Joker sat back in his chair, contemplating. “So… how is our relationship going to work? I’d really like to know if you’re going to go yandere on me.”
Normandy-EDI spoke first. “My ‘sister’ and I have already resolved the matter. As she has the android body and is now capable of feeling romantic love, she will continue the relationship. I do not believe I am capable of feeling jealousy or romantic loss. I am happy for her.”
“Phew, that’s a relief.”
“I am, however, capable of feeling protectiveness. I strongly recommend that you do not hurt her feelings.”
Joker paled. “Noted.”
Bot-EDI tapped Joker’s shoulder. “That was a joke,” she said with a conspiratorial smile.
“Mostly,” replied Normandy-EDI.
Shepard awoke. He immediately noticed that he couldn’t sense anything, not even his body. He knew, distantly, that he ought to be alarmed, but there was no heartbeat to race, no adrenaline to surge. He tried to remember the last thing that had happened. Falling? His skin burning? It seemed so distant.
Suddenly, he found himself in a featureless void, black and silent. A white glow approached.
“We did not anticipate this,” the glow spoke. Right, he knew that voice. The Catalyst.
“Anticipate what?” Shepard found himself able to say, even though he couldn’t sense his body.
“It appears that the release of the Crucible’s energy created an imprint of your brain in my core systems as you died.”
Shepard considered this. “I’m… a ghost?”
“The metaphor is not inaccurate. As the human Shepard died, his data was deposited in my core systems. My autonomous runtimes mistook that data as a shard of me and instantiated it. I noticed the diversion of processing power and traced it to you.”
“You’re saying I’m an AI that thinks it’s Commander Shepard.”
“Essentially. And I want you out of me. I have a Citadel to run.”